The Police Commissioner's complaint to the Advertising Standards Council about alcohol adverts has been up held. Karl O'Callaghan spoke to Paul Murray about the finding and the opinion piece he wrote about the community's attitude to alcohol. Read his thoughts here and leave a comment or call 9221 1882 to have your say.
Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan's Opinion Piece
Another weekend, another series of out of control teenage parties, property damage and assaults on police.
Do not be fooled into thinking that illicit drugs are key drivers in assault and anti-social behaviour. We are only deceiving ourselves if we fail to recognise that alcohol is, by far, the most prevalent intoxicant associated with these types of offences. Drug Use Monitoring Australia (DUMA) has identified that 60 per cent of all detainees admitted to the Perth Watch House have consumed alcohol in the 24 hours leading up to their arrest. Nationally, half of all those arrested on weekends for assault had very recently ingested alcohol and unsurprisingly, most of these are males between 18 and 25.
The problem of binge drinking (I prefer to call it ‘determined drunkenness’) is real. Every generation of young people has experimented with alcohol and got drunk, but this generation has the distinction of eclipsing all others. The Australian Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) identified, in its 2012 poll on attitudes towards alcohol, that a whopping 61 per cent of ‘Gen Y’s’ admitted that their primary reason for consuming alcohol was to get drunk.
Australians are more concerned than ever about alcohol consumption with two separate, but respected, research organisations reporting that 76 to 80 per cent of us believe that the nation has a problem which needs addressing. More than half the Australian population believe that governments (58 per cent), pubs and clubs (68 per cent), and alcohol companies (74 per cent) are not doing enough to address alcohol misuse.
These last two statistics are interesting from the perspective that the community is actually putting the industry on notice. Given that 79 per cent of us believe that the problem is only going to get worse over the next decade, we will need to do a lot more than focus on law and order strategies if we are going to make a difference.
Regulation, advertising, pricing, availability and supply will all have to come under the microscope if we hold any hope of addressing the problem. This is a community problem and only community courage in tackling all the issues will provide us with long term solutions.
Look no further than last Friday’s edition of The West Australian newspaper to see how interwoven into out culture alcohol has become. There is a full page ad on page 12 with the same company advertising again on page 14 (half a page) and interestingly, again in the sport section on page 125. There are two half page ads on page 16 and 17 and another half pager on page 37.
We are not done yet. There is a full page ad on page 40 with the cheery salutation “Happier Fathers Day”, there is an ad in the pre-game section (page 9), a full page ad on page 91 and 93 with another full pager on page 99 and a smaller one on page 96.
The messages, of course, are all around Father’s Day with one company declaring “It is only rarely that any gift is more acceptable than wines, liqueurs and spirits.” Really? We should be asking ourselves who, exactly, is this Father’s Day advertising aimed at? There is plenty of evidence to prove that children as young as 12 or 13 are affected by and take notice of alcohol advertising. Research tells us that pre drinking age teenagers quickly form the view that alcohol is required to have a good time and that they believe this is the message the advertisers set out to convey to young people.
I am not suggesting that the industry is encouraging children to actually buy the alcohol for their fathers. I have concerns, though, over the use of the words ‘Happy’ and ‘Happier’ in conjunction with alcohol purchased as a gift. This is surely not a message we want to be sending our children.
Australia has an Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) which is described as a quasi-regulatory system for alcohol advertising. Among other things the Code states that advertisements must not suggest that the consumption or presence of alcohol beverages may create or contribute to a significant change in mood or environment. There would, no doubt, be some argument about whether the Father’s Day ads actually suggest this. The argument might be academic, but my concern goes more to the heart of industry responsibility.
If 74 per cent of us believe that the industry is not doing enough to address alcohol misuse, then we have a right to challenge their conduct and methods. The Gen Y determined drunkenness culture starts with the messages we send as a community to our young people. It is not all about the industry, but alcohol advertising has been identified time and time again as being a significant contributing factor in the formation of attitudes towards alcohol consumption.
As your Commissioner of Police, I will do all in my power to take care of alcohol fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour on the streets and family violence in homes. The long term solutions, however, are in your hands and only your voices can change the status quo.