Hills MPs warn youths about drinking responsibly

Alcohol-fuelled violence and underage drinking is in the spotlight after recent events including the tragic death of Thomas Kelly. Reporter Sally Willoughby talks to local MP’s and publicans about how to promote a safer drinking culture.

A CULTURE that focuses on the responsible consumption of alcohol rather than just the responsible service of alcohol should be encouraged, local MPs and publicans believe.

MPs David Elliott and Dominic Perrottet say society's attitude to safe drinking needs to shift.

"There's this perception out there that it is the responsible service of alcohol, where indeed it really should be focusing on the responsible consumption of alcohol," said Baulkham Hills MP, Mr Elliott.

''People are just accepting that young people can drink alcohol as a norm…and it can’t continue.''

He said while publicans had a responsibility to promote safe drinking initiatives, that wasn't where the onus of responsibility ended.

"I've never known anybody to be dragged into a pub and had alcohol forced down their throat, so at the end of the day the responsibility for drinking has to be with the individual."

In May a parliamentary inquiry was initiated into laws related to the supply of alcohol to minors in the home.

The existing penalty for supplying alcohol to minors without the legal guardian’s permission is $11,000 or 12 months in prison.

Castle Hill MP Dominic Perrottet said parents responsibly introducing alcohol to a mature child were not the target.

"I have no issue with parents providing alcohol to their own children in the safety of their own home. The issues I believe arise are when parents provide alcohol to children who aren't theirs, or who may be friends of their children," he said.

"I believe that's where the government needs to take a role to ensure this behaviour is stamped out."

Both MPs support introducing legislation that imposes penalties on parents who supply their under-age child alcohol, and then "turn a blind eye" by leaving them unsupervised.

"If you don't feed your 12-year-old kid or you don't send your 15-year-old kid to school you get charged, but there's no discipline against a parent who lets their under-age kid drink a bottle of gin," Mr Elliott said.

They also support imposing a restriction that delays youth involved in alcohol-driven violence or public intoxication from getting their driver's licence.

Mr Elliott said police had commented on the steady decline of alcohol-related crime in the area, and praised local licensed venues for initiatives that encourage a safe drinking culture.

Hills hotel owner Marcello Colosimo employs initiatives to reduce alcohol-related problems like no shots after midnight, responsible service of alcohol marshals, courtesy buses and experienced door hosts who can identify fake ID cards. Many of the initiatives are voluntary.

"Being a local family for over 35 years, we want to make sure our venues are as safe as possible and form an integral part of the fabric of The Hills," Mr Colosimo said.

He said while there had been a decrease in alcohol-related violence in The Hills, initiatives like compulsory drug tests for anyone arrested over an assault, barring a person who commits a serious assault from all Hills licensed premises, and compulsory responsible serving of alcohol courses for year 12 students would help to further reduce alcohol-related incidents.

YOUTH SPEAK:

The News talked to local teenagers about their drinking habits and if they thought there was a problem with under-age drinking in The Hills.

- One girl, 16, said she started drinking at about 13. She usually drinks at somebody’s house, rarely in a public place like a park, and asks her older siblings for alcohol when she goes out. She thinks the drinking age should be lowered to 16 because ‘‘everybody’s doing it anyway’’.

- One boy, 15, from The Hills said he had drunk alcohol at parties, but not regularly. He thinks the drinking age should be lowered to 16.

- A 16-year-old youth said he started drinking at 12. He has a fake ID and has used it to get into a city club. He has been in a fight while drinking alcohol but doesn’t remember much. He doesn’t think there’s an issue with under-age drinking.

15.5 the average age an Australian starts drinking [Data from DrinkWise]

25% of 15 to 24 year olds binge drink at least once a month [Data from DrinkWise]

73% of teenagers believe it’s easy to get alcohol [Data from 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey]

$11,000 fine or 12 months in jail for giving alcohol to minors without parental permission.

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