Protecting kids from sly grog
ON August 13, 1999, my son Leigh, aged 15, was supplied with a massive quantity of alcohol. It contributed directly to his death.
Who gave permission to supply alcohol to our son? I was not asked. His mother was not asked.
Someone who should have known better took it upon themselves to buy this booze for a party – a party attended by children as young as 12.
Leigh was given enough alcohol to render him unconscious. One estimate put his blood-alcohol concentration as high as 0.3.
It was enough alcohol to put him on the ground. It was enough alcohol to keep him on the ground in the wind and rain and mud until as the Coroner put it, he died of “hypothermia in a setting of severe intoxication with alcohol”.
No one was charged with supplying this lethal dose of alcohol to my son.
Under Victorian law in 1999, the person who supplied that alcohol could not be held accountable for his death. At that time, any person could legally supply any child of any age with an unlimited amount of alcohol, as long as they did it at home.
There was no requirement for the parents of the child to be informed or give permission.
The law did nothing to protect our children.
Thankfully this is about to change.
A new Victorian law is about to slam the loophole shut. From November 1, in line with New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania, Victorian parents will be given legal backing to decide how, when and where their children have access to alcohol.
Strangers will have no part to play in that decision.
Getting to this point has not been easy.
For more than 10 years, I and others fought what looked like a losing battle to get Victorian law changed.
Even in the darkest days of our advocacy, though, no opposition, no argument has been able to sway me from the central plank of my argument.
No one other than a parent has any right to provide alcohol to a child under any circumstances.
I genuinely hope that this new law will encourage parents to think about the risk alcohol poses to their children.
I want parents to discuss alcohol and parties with their children, and with other parents.
I want parents to be aware of the risks their children face.
I want parents to grasp the chance they are now offered by this law – the chance to keep their children safe, and protect them from the harm that alcohol can cause.
But, despite the new law, parents must not assume that kids will suddenly stop getting drunk at parties.
There will be no “under-age drinking squad” raiding private parties.
Parents must be prepared to be clear with their children that they do not give them permission to drink.
Parents must be clear with other adults that they will not give permission for alcohol to be served to their children.
At last, now, they can do that knowing that the law is on their side.
Bruce Clark is secretary of the Leigh Clark Foundation and spokesman for VicHealth’s secondary supply of alcohol campaign.