Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Three-pronged attack on getting smashed

It is a scene that has become alarmingly familiar across Australia: young drunks, an increasing number of them female, smashing into one another with fists, bottles, clubs and even knives in alcohol-fuelled brawls.

On Queensland's Gold Coast, this year's Australia Day celebrations erupted into violence as hundreds of youths turned on police after the arrest of a drunken teenager.

In Perth, one man was killed and dozens of others hurt when pubs and clubs exploded into fights following the screening of a middleweight bout between boxers Anthony Mundine and Danny Green.

In Melbourne, James Macready-Bryan, 21, suffered brain damage in a fight and is now fed through a tube, needing round-the-clock care.

And violence is only one of the grim consequences of what governments, alcohol and drug bodies and youth and social organisations say is an epidemic of binge drinking.

Road and other accidents, health and medical problems and serious social issues have been forced up the political agenda by growing concern and an estimated annual cost to the nation of more than A$15 billion ($18.3 billion).

A survey by Roy Morgan Research released last month by the National Alliance Against Alcohol Related Violence found that 84 per cent of Australians believe binge drinking is on the rise, and that 60 per cent fear violence from drunks when they go out at night.

In New South Wales, almost 45 per cent of the more than 74,000 assaults reported in the 12 months to last September involved booze.

A 2005 secondary students' alcohol and drug survey reported that in any given week, about one in 10 of the nation's 12- to 17-year-olds binge-drinks or drinks at risky levels.

Another study of community football clubs made by the Centre for Youth Drug Studies found that 13 per cent of 18- to 20-year-olds drank 13 or more standard drinks each time they visited their club.

The study revealed that 70 per cent of males and 30 per cent of females considered drinking an important club tradition, and 83 per cent overall left the club as a driver.

Programmes and campaigns to stem the rising tide have mushroomed throughout Australia as governments, police, alcohol and drug bodies, social and community groups and sporting codes begin to realise the scope of the problem.

Last month, 30 organisations joined up to form the alliance against alcohol-related violence, with plans to use the combined weight of some of the country's most influential social welfare people and researchers to prompt more government action.

The alliance wants alcoholic drinks to be exempted from competition policy and placed under separate regulations, fewer liquor outlets and reduced opening hours, and for all drinks to be taxed by volume of alcohol.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Labour Government is already moving, launching a national binge drinking strategy in March and increasing the tax on "alcopops" - sweetened mixed drinks targeted at young, and especially female, drinkers.

Rudd's A$53 million strategy will tackle binge drinking on three key fronts. More than A$14 million will go to community groups - especially sporting organisations - through grants for programmes designed to deter binge drinking, warn of its dangers, and develop codes of practice.

Major sporting organisations, including netball and the rugby and football codes, have already signed on and will developed harmonised alcohol codes.

Rudd has warned that their performance on responsible drinking will affect future Government funding.

A further A$19 million will be spent on early intervention and diversion programmes, with pilot projects expected to be launched in each state by the end of the year.

Supporting this will be a A$20 million campaign on television, radio and the internet, based on successful anti-smoking, safe driving and HIV/Aids campaigns and designed to confront youths with the costs and consequences of binge drinking.
source: New Zealand Herald

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