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Saturday, 2 June 2012

Parents, teenage parties and alcohol

Last weekend NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell made the front page of the Sun Herald on the issue of parents, parties and teenage binge drinking. The story begins by stating that "parents who supply alcohol to other people's children face up to 12 months jail" as part of the changes being pushed by the Premier.

When you actually read the story it really says no such thing - no new laws have been made, just the ordering of a parliamentary inquiry into changes to the law to potentially prevent minors from drinking in homes, parks and halls. Call me just a little bit cynical but I wonder what the O'Farrell government didn't want on the front page last Sunday that led them to this big announcement of 'not much at all'! I remember many years ago when the then Premier of NSW, Bob Carr announced a trial of medical cannabis was to be rolled out, knowing full well that his government couldn't do anything without the Federal Government's support, guaranteeing a front page story in every newspaper and top story on every news program. His announcement just happened to coincide with the release of a report on problems with the rail system - surprise, surprise - that report got very little, if any coverage!

Don't get me wrong, I do believe that governments do want to do something about teenage parties and underage drinking - it's just that they have no idea what to do. Does anyone honestly believe that we have the police numbers to support tight laws around the provision of alcohol at teenage parties? If we don't have the police to enforce the laws, what is the point? We already have 'secondary supply' laws that are rarely, if ever, enforced and it's very difficult to stand in front of a group of young people and tell them about the laws when they know they really don't mean anything. The Victorian Government changed their laws at the end of 2011 but realistically things have not changed. If anyone has been prosecuted under the new laws we certainly haven't been told about it and really what's the point of having a law if it isn't policed?

Certainly parents have been screaming out for assistance with this matter. Many of us thought the Victorian changes would provide some well-needed support for parents in that state.

The good thing about a law in this area is that parents can use it to their advantage, so when their teenager asks to hold a party and serve alcohol they can turn around and simply say  "I can't - it's against the law!" The problem is that now that parents have a law to do just that, some parents are actually supporting their children in getting around the law! The law states that it is now illegal for anyone to serve alcohol to anyone under 18 years old unless their parent or guardian has given permission - break this law and you could be fined more than $7000. What some parents holding parties are now doing is creating notes with a 'tear-off permission slip' at the bottom requesting permission to allow their child to drink from the parents of the invited young people ... hard to believe but true. Instead of using the law to help them parent and say 'no' when appropriate, they do just the opposite ...

It'll be interesting to see what comes of this NSW parliamentary inquiry but to be honest I'm not expecting much. Governments can't dictate how parents should parent, and nor should they, but if parents don't support existing laws what is the point of creating new ones?

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About Me

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Paul Dillon has been working in the area of drug education for the past 25 years. Through his own business, Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) he has been contracted by many organisations to give regular updates on current drug trends. He has also worked with many school communities to ensure that they have access to good quality information and best practice drug education. His book 'Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs' was released nationally in February 2009. With a broad knowledge of a range of content areas, Paul regularly appears in the media and is regarded as a key social commentator, with interviews on television programs such as Sunrise, TODAY and The Project.