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A capital idea: Secondary supply served in ACT

Legislation to introduce a ‘secondary supply’ law was moved in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) parliament last week: the ACT is to ban supply of alcohol to young people unless the supplier has approval of the child’s parent. An offence against the Act will trigger a fine of up to $3000.

Most pleasingly, the ACT legislation will require supply of alcohol to young people to be ‘responsible’ as well as approved by a parent or guardian. Factors taken into account for responsible serving to a minor include the type and amount of alcohol supplied given the age of the child, whether food is served at the same time, and whether the child is supervised adequately.

The ACT Attorney-General, Simon Corbell, said the government is concerned about the effect of drinking on the adolescent brain. The Attorney-General is right to be concerned, as the brain redevelops during adolescence and is susceptible to damage by alcohol. Frequent and heavy adolescent drinking can cause impairment to cognitive functions.

Of course, that’s not the only problem of early drinking. Drinking before 15 years of age increases the risk of binge drinking in adolescence, and doubles the risk of the drinker developing alcohol dependence in adulthood. That’s why the National Health and Medical Research Council advise: “that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.”

Unkind people might ask why has it’s taken the ACT so long, but we would rather congratulate them for doing the right thing by young people. GrogWatch readers will know that this is an issue close to our hearts: we often talk about secondary supply laws, because we think they’re one of the most powerful tools to protect young people from alcohol-related harm. Listen to the Australian Drug Foundation’s Geoff Munro on the positive effects that secondary supply laws have:

However, we do have to ask — why is South Australia the only state or territory in the country without secondary supply protection for its young people?

As West Australia has announced it too will pass secondary supply legislation, this leaves South Australia as the odd state out in not offer that protection to young people.

Yet this is a matter of parent rights too; the secondary supply law gives parents control over the supply of alcohol to their children. Most parents don’t want other people secretly giving their children booze.

It’s also time for Victoria to update its secondary supply law as it only requires parental approval for underage drinking, but doesn’t require ‘responsible supply’. In Victoria it’s lawful for a person to serve a young person an unlimited amount of alcohol. That doesn’t make sense when Australia’s drinking guidelines recommend adolescents should drink as little as possible until they are reach 18 years.