Australia Day drinking problem
Simon Lauder reported this story on Tuesday, January 24, 2012 12:22:00
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ELEANOR HALL: If Australia Day is a reflection of our nation's identity, the latest evidence suggests that we have a major problem.
A study examining 10 years worth of emergency response calls shows more young Australians get drunk and violent on Australia Day than on any other day of the year.
The authors of the study say it's partly a cultural problem but they say it's also one that can be addressed by government action.
In Melbourne, Simon Lauder reports.
SIMON LAUDER: As Australia Day approaches, the emergency services are getting ready for a busy day. Brian Russo is a senior paramedic based in Melbourne.
BRIAN RUSSO: Look normally we do expect - particularly Australia Day where you've got the heat, people have got the day off - we do expect that there's going to be alcohol involved. When we arrive at a scene, you can obviously get big groups of people, various levels of intoxication, some people are a bit aggressive, uncooperative, so it is quite challenging for paramedics.
SIMON LAUDER: Do you think it's a problem that's got worse over say the last decade?
BRIAN RUSSO: I think it has, it's something that we tend to notice as paramedics, that people do seem to be more likely to lash out. People certainly tend to use weapons more now, so yeah it's something that we have noticed over the time, that it has continued to increase.
SIMON LAUDER: Heavy drinking has played a part in the Australian way of life since the arrival of the first fleet in 1788. So much so that Australia Day is now the day Australia's young people are most likely to drink themselves sick.
BELINDA LLOYD: Particularly for young people, we found that it was actually the worst day of the year across acute intoxication, assaults, and motor vehicle accidents.
SIMON LAUDER: Dr Belinda Lloyd is the lead author of a study which analysed 10 years of police data on assaults, hospital admissions and ambulance call-outs in Metropolitan Melbourne from the year 2000.
She says it's the first strong evidence to support what most people take for granted - Australians get through a lot of alcohol on public holidays.
Dr Lloyd says most drinking takes place the day before a public holiday.
BELINDA LLOYD: The exception to that thought is Australia Day where, particularly for young people we've found that it was actually the worst day of the year across acute intoxication, assaults and motor vehicle accidents.
SIMON LAUDER: Why do you think that is?
BELINDA LLOYD: Well, it certainly raises a number of issues around alcohol availability, around its acceptability of use and also around a culture of drinking. We did find that Australia Day was the second worst day across all other groups for assaults and so it certainly is a time of increased alcohol related harms across the whole population but young people seem to be particularly at risk at this time of year.
SIMON LAUDER: What is it about Australia Day do you think that makes young people want to get drunk?
BELINDA LLOYD: I certainly think that there's a degree of acceptability around intoxication at this time of year. Australia Day falling in the warmer months of the year, we know that warmer times of the year are certainly associated with increased alcohol consumption.
But we see quite sustained alcohol promotions and cut price alcohol deals in the lead-up to Australia Day and that's teamed with a whole range of sporting events that really are - have a lot of alcohol advertising associated with them and very much a culture of drinking.
So we have at this time of year cricket, the Australia Open, a number of other major sporting events where there's quite extensive alcohol advertising at that time.
We also see very focused alcohol promotions through bottle shops but also through on license premises and this certainly raises some concerns about alcohol consumption and the acceptability of drunkenness in the community.
SIMON LAUDER: Brian Vandenberg is the manager of alcohol programs at the State Government agency, VicHealth, which commissioned the study.
BRIAN VANDENBERG: I think it is a little bit sad, it's a bit embarrassing for Australia that our national public holiday is marked by a lot of binge drinking and that our police force and our ambulance services and hospitals are picking up the pieces.
SIMON LAUDER: Mr Vandenberg says most Australians drink responsibly but the problem needs to be addressed.
BRIAN VANDENBERG: Adults can play a role by acting more responsibly as role models to young people in the way they drink. I think the alcohol industry can be more responsible in the way they market and promote alcohol and I also think the Government has a role to play in addressing the price of alcohol through taxation policies and also the way liquor laws are established so that people are not inundated with alcohol in their face every day and there's a limit on how much alcohol is available.
SIMON LAUDER: The report found that events associated with public drinking and warm weather are the most likely to bring out violence, drunkenness and traffic accidents, which also puts New Year's Day near the top of the list.
ELEANOR HALL: Simon Lauder reporting.
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Booze-related violence to peak on Australia Day, ABC Melbourne, 24.01.2012
Police sick of 'drunken violence', ABC News, 25.11.2011
Police warn of Australia Day violence crackdown, ABC News, 22.01.2010
Voluntary alcohol restrictions proposed for Australia Day, PM, 14.01.2010
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