Alcohol in Australia

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World map showing countries by annual alcohol consumption per capita, 2008

Alcohol is commonly consumed and available at pubs and liquor stores in Australia – all of which are private enterprises. Spirits can be purchased at liquor stores and pubs, whereas grocery stores do not sell them, although they have on their premises separate liquor stores. Alcohol consumption is lower, according to WHO studies, than most European countries and several Central Asian and African countries.[1] After tobacco, alcohol is the second leading preventable cause of death and hospitalisation in Australia.[2]


The wine cask was invented in 1965 by South Australian winemaker Thomas Angove.
The oldest brewery in Australia is the Cascade Brewery which was established in 1824.

Heavy drinking in Australia was a cultural norm since colonisation.[3] For a period, convicts in Australia were partially paid with rum.[3] The distribution of rum amongst the New South Wales Corps led to the only successful armed takeover of an Australian government, which later became known as the Rum Rebellion of 1808.

In the 1830s, the Temperance Movement gained a following in the colony. Its influence peaked during World War I and the Great Depression. Alcohol sales were prohibited in the Australian Capital Territory between 1910 and 1928. Four referendums regarding the prohibition of alcohol were conducted in Western Australia, including one in each of the years 1911, 1921, 1925 and 1950. In 1837, laws were passed to prevent Aboriginal access to alcohol as binge drinking became problematic.[4]

An attempt to prohibit alcohol on the Victorian Goldfields was made in 1852.[4] This was the main factor leading to the growth in sly-grog shops.[5] In a failed attempt to reduce the effects of alcohol on society, all liquor establishments were forced to close by 6 pm from the 1910s to the 1960s. Rather than reduce alcohol consumption, the measures led to excessive drinking in the hour before closing time which became known as the six o'clock swill.[4] In the decade after World War II there was a step rise in the consumption of beer in Australia.[6] Since the 1960s the popularity of beer has declined while wine consumption increased.[2]

The consumption of alcohol increased from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s when it began to decline until it reached a consumption level commensurate with 1961 in 2003.[7] Consumption peaked in 1974 and 1975 when an average of 13.09 litres of pure alcohol was consumed.[2]

In March 1965, Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bogner secured themselves to the foot rail of Brisbane's Regatta Hotel with a dog chain to protest laws excluding them, as women, from drinking with men at public bars.[8] In 1965, a South Australian winemaker Thomas Angove, invented the box wine or wine cask.[9] The following four decades saw an increase in per capita wine consumption and a decrease in beer drinking.[7] However the market value of beer sales increased as the sales of up-market or boutique beers gained in popularity.

In 2005, Queensland introduced a lockout trial in order to reduce alcohol-related violence at three entertainment precincts which saw patrons barred from re-entering a licensed venue after 3 am. Victoria introduced a similar initiative known as the 2am Lockout in 2008. The 2010 Melbourne live music rally was a public rally to protest the claimed effects of liquor licensing laws on live music in the city.

Production and consumption[edit]

XXXX Gold was Australia's top-selling beer by volume in 2012.
Red wine grapes growing in the Barossa Valley, 2009

Alcohol is widely consumed in Australia as it is frequently available at social and cultural activities.[10] On a per capita scale, 10.3 litres of pure alcohol were consumed by each Australian in 2010. The average amongst OECD countries was 9.1 litres. Beer was the most preferred beverage, followed by wine, spirits and pre-mixed beverages.[10] Retail sales for alcohol including GST in the 2011/12 financial year totalled A$18,135 million.[11] In 2012, XXXX Gold was Australia's top-selling as measured by the volume of sales.[12]

In 2010, the National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that 7.2% of the Australian population drank alcohol each day.[13] Males were found to drink on daily basis at twice the rate of females and were more likely to drink quantities which posed a health risk. One recent survey of teenagers in Australia has shown a decrease in binge drinking across the age group since 2005.[14] Another survey in Victoria revealed drinking rates were increasing for young people despite it being illegal.[15] In 2010, 18- to 29-year-olds were the age group most likely to drink at harmful levels.

There are numerous factors that contribute to the rate of alcohol consumption in rural Australia. Studies have found a variety of economic and social factors result in a higher rate of alcohol consumption. Economically, factors such as lower income, level of education, lack of infrastructure, and a higher availability of alcohol are all known to have an impact on alcohol consumption rates. Social factors also play a large role with the normality and social acceptability of alcohol consumption in rural areas often leading to drinking beginning at a much younger age. Gender has also been found to play a large role in rural communities, with a sense of masculinity seen to heavily influence people.[16]

Indigenous alcohol consumption[edit]

It is well known that over the years indigenous Australians have also faced problems associated with excess alcohol consumption, and this problem is exemplified in rural areas. Statistics show that the rate of binge drinking in rural areas is 5% higher for indigenous Australians when compared to non-indigenous, it was also found that indigenous Australians were twice as likely to consume alcohol dangerously in the short term at least once a week. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that the rate of alcohol abstention for both male and female indigenous Australians was much higher than non-indigenous Australians, sitting at 1.7 and 1.4 times more respectively. While the rate of alcohol abstention is high, the higher rate of both short and long term risky drinking in indigenous Australians is cause for concern.[17]

Indigenous Australians were prohibited from buying alcohol until the end of the 1960s. The repeal of this legislation saw a rapid increase in indigenous alcohol consumption and contributed to many of the problems faced by indigenous Australians today. In recent years, efforts have been made to try and curb indigenous drinking, with the Queensland government, in association with rural indigenous communities, setting up Alcohol Management Plans (AMPs). AMP’s were first introduced in Australia in 2002, and have been adopted throughout a number of states.[18] More recently, AMP’s have been introduced into 19 communities in rural Queensland to attempt to control alcohol-fuelled violence. The plans either restrict the type and amount of alcohol that can be purchased in a town, or involve a blanket ban on alcohol sales.[19]

There has been a noticeable decrease in alcohol fuelled violence and dysfunction in the communities that have faced alcohol bans and restrictions. In 2012 the newly elected Queensland state government, under premier Campbell Newman, proposed a winding back of the alcohol restrictions, a number of aboriginal elders and community leaders opposed these changes, citing the positive benefits brought about by the laws.[20] Despite the many positives that alcohol bans have brought to indigenous communities, issues with alcohol consumption still exist, mainly the issue of home brewed alcohol. Home brew alcohol is commonplace in many of the indigenous communities where alcohol has been banned, with recent reports also calling for a ban of popular spread vegemite, because of its reported use in the manufacturing of alcohol in some northern territory communities.[21]


In 2007, it was reported that $128 million was spent on alcohol advertising in Australia.[22]

The Australian Medical Association claims young people in Australia are being exposed to an unprecedented level of alcohol marketing.[23] While there are no alcohol advertising bans in Australia some restrictions and conditions apply.[22] There are no restrictions on the sponsorship of youth and sport events in Australia.[24]

Legislation and guidelines[edit]

The age limit for the purchase of alcoholic products in Australia is 18. A license to both produce and sell alcohol is required. Alcohol products in Australia contain warnings against drinking whilst pregnant. Guidelines for alcohol use are made by the National Health and Medical Research Council.[10] The body recommends no more than two standards drinks per day to avoid life-time risk of harm from an alcohol-related injury or disease.

Queensland has introduced alcohol restrictions as part of the state's Alcohol Management Plans in 19 separate Indigenous communities.[25]

Violence and harm[edit]

Main article: Alcohol abuse

Alcohol abuse in Australia is associated with violence, drink driving, child neglect and abuse as well as absenteeism in the workplace.[10] Alcohol is second to tobacco as the cause of preventable death and hospitalistion in Australia. According to a report released by VicHealth and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education in 2014, an average of 15 Australians die each day due to alcohol, an increase of 62% within a decade.[26] One recent estimate of the total cost of alcohol-related crime put the figure at $1.7 billion.[27]

According to the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey just over 8% of Australian adults reported being the victim of an alcohol-related assault.[28] Between 2004 and 2008, Indigenous Australians died from disorders due to alcohol at a rate seven times greater than non-Indigenous Australians.[10] Estimates obtained from police data show 70,000 Australians were the victim of an alcohol-related assault in 2005.[10][29] Research has indicated about 10% of police time is devoted to dealing with incidents related to alcohol.[27]

In an effort to reduce alcohol intoxication by teenagers during schoolies week liquor retailers have had to hire extra security staff at popular schoolies locations.[30] Parents supplying alcohol to minors in an unsupervised environment may incur penalties of up to $8,800 in Queensland.[31]

Alcohol related organizations[edit]

The Australian Hotels Association represents hoteliers around Australia. It was established in 1839. The Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand was set up to advocate on behalf of brewers in both countries.[32]

Drinkwise is an industry funded organisation that funds alcohol-related research and conducts public education activities. Ocsober is an Australian fundraising initiative that encourages people to give up alcohol for the month of October.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Global status report on alcohol and health. 2011. World Health Organization. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Melissa Davey & Nick Evershed (6 May 2015). "Australians' alcohol consumption at lowest level since 1960s". The Guardian (Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "A brief history of alcohol consumption in Australia". The Conversation. The Conversation Media Group. 25 February 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c Alcohol in Australia: Issues and Strategies (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. 2001. p. 1. ISBN 0642503230. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  5. ^ "Law, Order and Health". Department of Planning and Community Development. 14 May 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  6. ^ Holt, Mack (2006). Alcohol: A Social and Cultural History. Berg. p. 214. ISBN 1845201655. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Rowe, David; Callum Gilmour (2009). "Lubrication and Domination: Beer, Sport, Masculinity and the Australian Gender Order". In Wenner, Lawrence A.; Jackson, Steven J. Sport, Beer, and Gender: Promotional Culture and Contemporary Social Life. Peter Lang. p. 206. ISBN 1433100762. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  8. ^ "Sixties activists fought for rights with marches, bra-burning". The Courier-Mail (Queensland News). 1 June 2009. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  9. ^ Crystal Ja & AAP reporters (25 January 2011). "Eclectic mix honoured on Australia Day". The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2012). Australia's health 2012. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. pp. 228–234. ISBN 174249305X. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "The Australian Alcohol Market". Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  12. ^ Colin Kruger (5 November 2012). "Lion leads the way with XXXX Gold". The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  13. ^ 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey report. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. p. 45. ISBN 9781742491882. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 
  14. ^ Tony Wright (11 February 2013). "Fall in teenage binge drinking". The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  15. ^ "Study shows half of Australia's 17-year-olds binge drink". The Cairns Post (News Limited). 6 February 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 
  16. ^ Allan, J.; Clifford, A.; Ball, P.; Alston, M.; Meister, P. (4 July 2012). "'You're Less Complete if You Haven't Got a Can in Your Hand': Alcohol Consumption and Related Harmful Effects in Rural Australia: The Role and Influence of Cultural Capital". Alcohol and Alcoholism 47 (5): 624–629. doi:10.1093/alcalc/ags074. 
  17. ^ Health, Australian Institute of; Welfare (2011). Substance use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Canberra, A.C.T.: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. ISBN 978-1-74249-119-6. 
  18. ^ "Alcohol management plans and related alcohol reforms" (PDF). Indigenous Justice. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  19. ^ McKenna, Michael (19 June 2014). "Keeping a lid on drink". The Australian. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  20. ^ d'Abbs, Peter (12 October 2012). "New singers, old songs: alcohol bans in Aboriginal communities". The Conversation. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  21. ^ "'Vegemite watch' rejected by PM after reports spread used to brew alcohol in dry communities". AFP/ABC. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 10 August 2015. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  22. ^ a b "Preventing Alcohol-related harm in Australia: a window of opportunity". Discussion Papaer. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  23. ^ "Alcohol marketing and young people". Australian Medical Association. 19 September 2012. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 
  24. ^ World Health Organization. Global Status Report: Alcohol Policy. World Health Organization. p. 130. ISBN 9241580356. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  25. ^ "Alcohol Restrictions". Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation. 23 January 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  26. ^ "Alcohol is killing 15 Australians a day and experts want tough new warning labels". (News Limited). 31 July 2014. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  27. ^ a b Anthony Morgan & Amanda McAtamney (December 2009). "Key issues in alcohol-related violence". Research in practice no. 4. Australian Institute of Criminology. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  28. ^ Robin Room & Michael Livingstone (26 February 2013). "Fact check: only drugs and alcohol together cause violence". The Conversation. The Conversation Media Group. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 
  29. ^ "Shocking Binge Drinking Facts For Australia - The Social Cost". 
  30. ^ "Liquor sellers clamp down on Schoolies Week sales". Herald Sun (News Limited). 14 November 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  31. ^ "Parents and guardians". Schoolies. The State of Queensland. 24 February 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  32. ^ "About Us". Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Statistics about alcohol in Australia at Wikimedia Commons