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Australia's Drunken Teens Have Nothing On Their Parents

If you believe recent headlines, Australian youth are booze-fuelled little turds prone to acts of violence. The reality is that Australians are consuming less alcohol per capita today than in the beer-swilling 70s and 80s.

Image by Daniel Bolt

Kings Cross without beer goggles is about as much fun as watching somebody else play the pokies, except there are no senior citizens and everybody is wearing Jeffrey Campbell platforms. The lowest point of my Saturday night for VICE was talking to an almost comatosed dude with glazed angry eyes. As he insinuated that some people deserve to be king hit, I briefly thought to myself: maybe those tabloids are right.


If you believe recent headlines, Australian youth (especially young men) are booze-fuelled little turds prone to acts of violence. Even the notorious “entertainment maven” John Ibrahim has something negative to say. “Generation Y is the shittiest we’ve ever had. They are so bad the government has had to back-hand them into going to sleep at 3am, and the rest of us alongside them,” he says.

This picture of an increasingly lawless, revolting Australian youth was pivotal to securing public support for the NSW government’s Sydney lockout laws, which came into effect last week. The problem is that this stereotype is wildly inaccurate. It’s also a little hypocritical when it comes from ageing politicians, journalists or gangsters, because if anybody has an unaddressed problem with booze or violence, it’s probably them.

The reality is that Australians are consuming less alcohol per capita today than in the beer-swilling 70s and 80s. Today’s teens are binge drinking less than adolescents last decade, and they’re boozing less than older members of Australian society. This ironic trend was highlighted by Roy Morgan research last month, which found that your father is likely a better candidate for AA than your younger brother or sister.

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“While young male binge drinkers may be the target of most public (and media) scrutiny, men aged 35 and older are actually more likely to be binge drinkers than their 18 to 24-year-old counterparts,” concluded Roy Morgan’s research. According to the numbers, eight per cent of 50 to 64 year old men consume more than 35 glasses of alcohol weekly. That’s roughly five bottles of Shiraz, 1.6 bottles of Johnnie Walker, or 32 sugary bitch drinks.


This literally sobering research is supported by new crime figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicating that today’s youth are getting less violent and criminally inclined. Youth offender rates have decreased since 2012 and Australian men are experiencing less violence than they were last decade. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for Australian women, in part due to the distinctly middle-aged problem of domestic violence.

There’s more surprising trends when we look at alcohol-related assaults, too. Government studies on NSW—the national face of the Sydney lockout and drunk teen violence – indicate that today’s clubbers and pubbers are becoming less bezerk. Violent incidents on NSW licensed premises have decreased by 28 per cent since 2007, and alcohol-fuelled assaults in general decreased by 35 per cent between 2008 and 2012.

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Now, this isn’t to say that male violence isn’t a problem, but policy makers might be barking at the wrong types of offenders, says Rodney Vlais, CEO of No To Violence. “In Victoria last year, 27 women were killed through family violence perpetrated by men. This was an increase of 80 per cent from the year before. It's more confronting to focus on men's violence against women than their use of violence in the streets against other men,” he said to VICE.

So, what’s with the ongoing focus on young drunk teens? These trends indicate there’s a serious gap between portrayal and reality. They don't match to the outrage elicited by the sad stories of Daniel Christie and Thomas Kelly, the 18-year-olds randomly and fatally king hit (or “coward punched”) in Kings Cross. They also don’t match the headlines about their killers and other mid-20s thugs allegedly made criminally violent by booze, meth or injecting steroids in their cocks.


Some say the disjunct is due to bad journalism. A good example of this argument is by Crikey’s Bernard Keane. He says Fairfax’s The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are chirping that “violence is getting worse in Sydney and that alcohol is to blame” because this narrative is an easy and clickable read. “This is the story of how a desperate media company has corrupted public debate, leading to significant curbs on basic rights and bad policy in NSW,” writes Keane.

Keane’s logic is compelling and it’s admittedly tempting to blame newspapers for the Sydney lockout. Yet it also feels a bit too easy. Media and public opinion is a chicken/egg scenario, and it’s not entirely clear where things got scrambled in regards to Sydney’s new nightlife laws. It is important to note that conservative politicians, nightlife lobby groups, youth violence campaigners, and alcohol researchers have been as prominent in this public policy debate as struggling news editors.

Stereotypes of young drunk violence are arguably simpler to digest than bigger issues, like domestic assault. Dr Kristin Diemer, a research fellow in family violence at The University of Melbourne, says alcohol-fuelled assault is “easy” for us to focus on. “Violence against women is not a shared fear,” she said to VICE. “Male-to-male violence is also fuelled by a shared popular culture support for those crazy actions during drunken episode.” The result is car crash coverage of a common threat that “fuels our curiosity and voyeurism”.

Diemer’s comments touch on an even more controversial area: that we might actually like the (largely inaccurate) way that Australian youth and Kings Cross boozers are depicted by popular culture. “We laugh, tell stories and create legends about the shared experience of watching drunken acts and fights,” she says. Even our Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a little guilty of perpetuating this macho culture, as seen by his comments last month about “wimps” and the sorts of men who should run a country.

Those personally affected by Kings Cross violence will likely disagree with this last grey area. The shelled-shocked faces of Thomas and Daniel’s parents are a traumatic reminder of our unfathomable world, and the weekend worries of other Australian parents are a legitimate consideration. I don’t know what it feels to want a better world for my children, and I’m still probably closer to being a teenager than a parent. I do know that it’s easy to forget that we were all once drunk and disgusting grogs.

I was confronted with my own ability to forget in Kings Cross. Ten minutes after meeting that agro dude, I met a bunch of drunk teens outside Candy’s Apartment. They were sitting in the middle of the footpath like it was nobody’s business in t-shirts with slogans like “ZERO fucks”. “Everybody thinks our generation is all grogs but we’re not. We’re all just hanging out with our friends,” said one girl. I suddenly felt simultaneously ancient and 18 years old again, and remembered every time I’ve sat in a gutter with menthol ciggies and a bag of goon.

Follow Emilia on Twitter: @EmiliaKate