Australia has a longstanding drinking culture where quantity wins over quality every time. So it’s no surprise that this is spilling into the underage percent of the population.

We’re a country that wants to be both casual and critical about how much citizens choose to consume. But that obviously ain’t cutting it, a fact currently highlighted by intensely biased media coverage and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s recent proposition of new laws to target problem teenage drinking.

It’s an issue that resurfaces whenever the press need something to be disgusted by. When heavy drinking is culturally endorsed as synonymous with a good time, why is it unexpected kids are hitting the bottle so hard?

Rudd and Health Minister Roxon are like the naïve parents who come home early to find their kids had a party and trashed the joint. They are angry, confused and misguided about where the blame should fall. While their targeting of parents’ serving of alcohol to their kids is on the right track, it’s easy to be cynical and comment that they’d be better off dealing with the parents’ drinking habits to reach the desired response — after all, children’s behaviour comes from somewhere. Warning labels also strike as a bandaid solution. Teenagers will already be in possession of the bottle by the time they read it.

As a seventeen year old, none of this is new. Having hit pubescence in a small beachside town, I got drunk for the first time at a friend’s thirteenth birthday. Now in suburbia, getting smashed on the weekend is the norm for some of my peer group. But not all – not even close. It is too easy to pigeon-hole entire age brackets into anti-social behaviours. This is neither fair nor productive. It is also important to note that when it comes to alcohol abuse, teenagers can’t hold a candle to their parents or other adults. It’s just a more visible and emotive issue when they try.

Admittedly, Australia’s drinking habit contrasts starkly against most of Europe. In countries where the legal buying age is two years lower, like Germany, youth binge drinking isn’t even a blip on the radar. Which if nothing else proves attitudes need to be targeted, not ages. Changing laws is all well and good. But when it’s aimed at altering cultural norms the point is, inevitably, missed.

Ultimately it comes down to personal and communal accountability. The Rudd government can try to build this with new regulations. But he is not our father and the responsibility shouldn’t be his. If we decide binge drinking is not something we want as a societal staple, the onus is on us, youth and adults alike.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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