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A question of consent

Most jurisdictions in Australia now require a parent’s approval for the supply of alcohol to an underage person in private domestic settings. These include Victoria, NSW, Tasmania, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Secondary supply legislation, as it is known, is informed by the view that a parent or guardian should decide if and when their children drink alcohol, and that children should not drink alcohol without the consent of their parent or equivalent. The law doesn’t prevent a parent or legal guardian from supplying alcohol to their own children, though in Queensland, NT and Tasmania the laws stipulate that the supply must be ‘responsible’.

Recently Grogwatch has been asked what constitutes parental consent. In other words, how does a parent give dis/approval for another adult to supply their child with alcohol?  Conversely, how can an adult know that a parent has truly given consent for their child to drink alcohol?

Our belief is the onus is on the server to prove they had a reasonable belief that the parent/guardian had given approval to serve alcohol, but the legislation does not prescribe forms of consent.

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A verbal agreement provided in person (face to face) provides a server with a reasonable belief that they have approval, but if a dispute arose subsequently it might be difficult to prove, and the police or magistrate might have to form a judgment about which witness is most credible. The safest form of consent may be approval in writing, but the server must have a reasonable belief that the message is genuine. A text message from a parent’s mobile phone might suffice as long as the receiver is confident the parent sent the message. A return phone call could clarify the situation. We know that some parents send written invitations with consent forms attached asking for these to be returned, and The Other Talk has some very useful safe partying guidelines.

As the majority of young people don’t drink alcohol, and the age of first drink is rising, parents who resist serving their children alcohol are now becoming the majority. Similarly, the latest national drinking guidelines issued by the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC, 2009) take a strict view on the harms associated with underage drinking — the NHMRC now suggests people don’t drink alcohol until they’re at least eighteen years old. This advice means parental attitudes are changing as they won’t allow their children to drink at any time, due to the risk of short- and long-term harm. It also means they won’t serve adolescents alcohol, regardless of approval from their parent/guardian.

Does this mean that secondary supply legislation will become irrelevant in time?  Or should secondary supply legislation go further and say no children should be served alcohol until they reach the legal age?