Safer Sydney: Alcohol link to young criminals


Nicole Hasham, Rachel Olding – SMH

"You can put the trailer on the back of the Commodore and pull up to Dan Murphy's and fill that trailer up every day of the week and no one bats an eyelid": Mark Murdoch.

The simplest thing we can do is to regulate liquor promotions

About 70 per cent of young people in custody in NSW were drunk when they committed their crime, juvenile justice officials say, adding weight to calls for tougher government action to tackle booze-fuelled harm.

The figures come as Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Murdoch blasted cut-price liquor chains for contributing to levels of alcohol-fuelled violence that police and licensed venues are powerless to stop.

In evidence submitted to a parliamentary inquiry into Strategies to Reduce Alcohol Abuse Among Young People, Juvenile Justice NSW said seven in 10 young people in custody were intoxicated at the time of their offence.

The inquiry’s report, delivered last month, said almost two-thirds of young people in custody reported being drunk at least weekly in the year before coming into custody, and more than one in five reported this daily or almost daily.

The figures were based on a 2009 health survey of young people in custody, and Juvenile Justice NSW spokeswoman Kerry Mumford said “we certainly haven’t seen a huge change” in the problem.

“[Juveniles that offend] are not all iced off their heads, most of them are actually drunk,” she said. “Alcohol in particular is a big factor in young [offenders’] lives, they tend to use and abuse alcohol from a relatively young age. They also often have . . . a history of drug and alcohol abuse in their family”. The government is considering the report, which recommended more research into the practice of “pre-loading” – where drinkers fill up on shop-bought alcohol before going to pubs and clubs – and the collection of alcohol sales data to better understand where harm is occurring.

Mr Murdoch, commander of the central metropolitan region, said the pre-loading culture was undermining tough laws applied to pubs and clubs. “You can put the trailer on the back of the Commodore and pull up to Dan Murphy’s and fill that trailer up every day of the week and no one bats an eyelid,” he said.

“We’ve battered and beaten down venue operators to the point where the security on the doors is very, very vigilant so we’ve got a lot of people coming into the city already drunk and just hanging around on the street getting into trouble. That’s something relatively new to us and it’s only getting worse.”

Between 60 and 80 per cent of young people drink alcohol before they go out, recent studies have found, with the most common reason cited that drinking at home is cheaper. However, a young person who pre-drinks just five drinks is twice as likely to commit a violent assault when they’re out, according to the largest ever study into alcohol-related nightlife crime.

If they have 10 drinks before going out, the risk of assaulting someone tripled, Deakin University alcohol expert Peter Miller said.

Daniel Christie, 18, from Thornleigh, remained in a critical condition in St Vincent’s Hospital on Wednesday, more than a week after he was allegedly punched by Shaun McNeil.

The incident has reignited debate over how to address booze-fuelled violence. Mr McNeil, 25, told police he had consumed eight beers and one wine since 3pm on New Year’s Eve.

Sandra Jones, director of the Centre for Health Initiatives at the University of Wollongong, said the only way to curb the growing culture of pre-loading was to increase the price of alcohol.

‘‘The industry will try to argue otherwise but there are decades and decades of really good quality research that show a direct inverse relationship between the price of alcohol and consumption,’’ she said. ‘‘The simplest thing we can do is to regulate liquor promotions.’’

A bottle of Smirnoff vodka retailed in Bottlemart stores for $19.90 in 1990, the equivalent of $36 today. At Dan Murphy’s, the cheapest bottle retails for $27.99.

Both Coles and Woolworths, who between them own Dan Murphy’s, Liquorland, First Choice and Vintage Cellars, rejected suggestions that cheap alcohol contributed to violence among young drinkers.

“The vast majority of Coles customers consume packaged liquor responsibly and we do not believe they should be penalised by the actions of the minority who do not consumer liquor responsibly,’’ said a Coles spokeswoman.

Woolworths Liquor Group went over and above its requirements to better manage alcohol-related harm issues but believed it was ‘‘ultimately an issue of individual responsibility’’, a spokeswoman said.

Hospitality Minister George Souris has pointed to measures such as extra police, sobering-up centres and the introduction of an intoxicated and disorderly offence.

“I acknowledge that the recent spate of violent incidents are disturbing and my heart goes out to the victims and their families,” he said last week, adding the government would “do all it can” to drive down alcohol-related violence.