Operation Unite - Andrew Scipione

A call for unity on alcohol

Police responses to excessive public drinking was the subject of last week’s Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Oration last week by Andrew Scipione, the Chief Commissioner of NSW Police, ahead of Operation Unite. Held jointly by police services in Australia and New Zealand, Operation Unite targets crime, violence and other anti-social behaviour in entertainment precincts. Commissioner Scipione outlined the determination of police to reduce excessive drinking and its effects on drinkers and others who are harmed by them.

Over this weekend, in Australia and New Zealand, the action of Operation Unite resulted in 2485 arrests, 1906 licensing breaches and 912 breathalyser offences.

However in his address Commissioner Scipione emphasised police action is not a solution because it deals with the downstream results of drinking. He said, ‘We cannot arrest our way out of the problem’ – it is only with united efforts across all levels of government and the community that effective change can truly happen.

So what is the answer?

We need a common approach from drug and other health and welfare agencies, from government, and support from the public to ensure preventative action is taken to limit excessive drinking. Preventing problems is more humane than patching up the sick and injured, and probably less expensive.

Legislation is part of the answer: we can begin by ensuring alcohol is not priced at give-away levels, preferably taxed on a volumetric basis (per volume of absolute alcohol); that the number of liquor outlets and their trading hours are subject to appropriate planning; that and advertising of alcohol is regulated by an independent authority.

However prevention is more than just legislation: it is also about our expectations and our attitudes to alcohol and to drinking. Somehow we have come to believe that alcohol is a crucial part of everything we do and too many of us think getting wasted is entertainment in itself. As Commissioner Scipione stated, we earn our merit badge for drinking early, and we wear it too proudly.

Apart from working to change government policy, we can also start to be the change we want to see: we can alter our attitude that alcohol is essential to every activity; that drunkenness is acceptable; that alcohol is important for us to live, work and play.

Listen to Chief Commissioner of NSW Police, Andrew Scipione’s oration: NSW Police Chief Comissioner Andrew Scipione.

Note: Dame Elisabeth Murdoch supported the work of the Australian Drug Foundation and her support was gratefully received and acknowledged. Dame Elisabeth was a great Australian. The Australian Drug Foundation extends its sympathy to her family on her passing.

Julie Rae
Australian Drug Foundation