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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8136

Senator MACKAY (7:02 AM) —On behalf of Senator Buckland and Senator Forshaw, I seek leave to incorporate the speeches they would have made on the adjournment debate.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

Senator Buckland

Tonight I rise to speak on an issue that is causing myself and many in the community a fair degree of unease.

The issue is teenage binge drinking and sadly this becomes more pronounced during Schoolies Week.

Schoolies week of course is that time of year when scores of teenagers make that frantic changeover from regimented school life to a more adult way of doing things and they undertake an annual trek to holiday resort areas to celebrate leaving school.

What many of us fail to realise is that schoolies week, followed by the summer holidays is a period of time where teenagers are prone to alcohol abuse and drugs.

It is this period of time when many young people are introduced to drugs and are susceptible to binge drinking which has reached epidemic proportions, not only in many communities in Australia but also in many other parts of the world.

As one 17-year-old schoolie from Brisbane was reported saying in “The Australian” in November of this year “it would probably be a bit boring if you weren't drunk.” It is sad to think that a 17 year old, a young person entering the most exciting period of life could have such a negative attitude.

I think I should at this point make it very clear that I am not characterising all young people nor am I characterising all those who attend Schoolies Week. Indeed I can see many benefits arising out of this time.

But in May of this year fifty professionals from 22 different countries made four wide-ranging recommendations for their report to the World Health Organisation (WHO), on the many countries where there has been an increase in binge drinking and the age of binge drinking has been getting lower.

The first advised WHO to `assist countries in taking all legislative or regulatory steps necessary to ensure that young people are not exposed to promotional messages about alcohol'. In July of this year Victorian Health Minister John Thwaites said it was clear some alcohol companies were breaking the advertising code. He cited examples where women under 25 years of age were used to advertise an alcoholic soda, a drawing of a scantily clad woman holding a beer was erected in a school bus stop while another alcohol promotion had a seven-day party on the Gold Coast with the catch-cry “schools out, it's time to party.”

In the hype of schoolies week, aided by various methods of advertising alcohol, alcohol is depicted as exuding a positive effect in social environments and links alcohol and sex and associates alcohol with extreme sports or driving.

A recommendation from WHO was that a total ban on the advertising of alcohol was necessary because it would be almost unachievable to prevent teenagers from seeing the advertisements.

A second recommendation urged WHO to raise the awareness of sophisticated advertising techniques through media advocacy and counter-advertising programs. It was suggested that powerful anti-tobacco commercials in the US were very successful with teenagers and could be used for alcohol.

In October 2001, it was reported that students at the traditional Schoolies Week on the Gold Coast of that year would be the targets of a new health education program aimed at reducing binge drinking.

Health Minister, Craig Knowles told Parliament, that the program would focus on reducing the secondary sale of alcohol to minors and reducing unsafe sex practices associated with the misuse of alcohol.

This project is an acknowledgment that Schoolies Week goes hand in hand with binge drinking and other related consequences along with other alcohol fuelled parties to celebrate the end of high school.

Alcohol abuse, in particular binge drinking, and boredom which seem to go hand in hand were also noted as concerns in most areas.

Rural communities in particular need to recognise that there is really not much else for young people to do in small towns and those communities with the aid of governments should therefore look at other recreational activities.

More than one third of teenage boys claim to have drunk more than 10 drinks in one session in July of this year according to a study conducted by Roy Morgan Research for the Salvation Army.

The report warns the “massive change” in drinking habits in recent years is a greater worry than illegal drug-taking because it affects so many more people.

“This generation of drinkers starts younger, drinks more, and indulges in binge drinking to a greater extent than any previous generation,” the report says.

“The younger a person is when they start to drink the more likely they are to drink more than 30 drinks a week,” the report goes on to say.

Overall, 63 per cent of teenagers have had their first drink by the age of 14. For the 14-24 age group, the prevalence of binge drinking had grown dramatically in the past 5 years, 45 per cent said they had drunk 10 or more drinks on one day the previous month while in 1997 only 18 per cent had gone on such a binge.”

According to the study 22% of teenage girls had gone on a drinking binge in July, having consumed more than nine drinks in a single four-hour session.

The report—based on a sample of 614 Australians aged 14 and over—says community acceptance of alcohol, and recent publicity about its positive health effects, has hidden “the dreadful effects of excessive drinking.”

Young people surveyed said the main reason they drank was to “fit in at social activities.”

In September of this year 200 drunken youths wreaked havoc at Sydney's Bondi beach in school muck-up day celebrations. They damaged vehicles, buildings, signposts and garbage bins as they celebrated the end of school. This brought the problem home to many because of the fear and damage it perpetrated in the community.

Mr Dillon, from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre said Australia was on of the few countries where binge drinking is acceptable. In Australia concern about illicit drugs had sidelined alcohol as an issue.

“Parents see alcohol use as a protective factor against other drug use,” Mr Dillon said, “but in reality the only drug problem most will experience with their child will be alcohol.”

Dr Paul Harben, the head of drug and health services at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, said binge drinkers were at increased risk of injury and death, pregnancy, sexual abuse, fights and accidents. They were also prone to drowning, falls, alcohol poisoning and choking on their own vomit. The latest official figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show 680 people aged 15 to 34 died in 1998 due to alcohol-related causes, compared with 547 due to all illegal drugs. That's not to mention that 3 700 people overall who die in Australia each year of alcohol-related disease and illness.

Illicit drug use is also a serious problem but it is much less common.

In the Sunday Age on 24th December 2000 it was reported that there is an alarming rise in drink spiking. It is believed that several schoolgirls had been given the morning-after pill after being drugged at a schoolies week outing in Queensland.

It is time to pay the binge-drinking epidemic the attention it needs. We cannot be complacent on this tragedy facing our young in society.


Senator Forshaw

This morning as this parliament draws to a close we will travel back home hoping to enjoy a happy, healthy and safe Christmas and New Year. Our expectation is likely to be fulfilled because we live in a relatively peaceful and safe part of the world.

Of course for a number of Australian families it will not be happy or peaceful. I refer particularly to those who lost relatives and friends in the terrible tragedy of Bali.

I said relatively peaceful and safe because unfortunately our part of the world is no longer as safe as we once thought. Bali taught us that. It taught us that Australia is no longer isolated from the reach of terrorists and extremists.

It is therefore appropriate at this time that we reflect on those who live in the Middle East, in Israel and Palestine, the birthplace of Christianity—the historical basis of our celebrations at Christmas time.

In that tortured part of the world there will be very little celebration, happiness or safety. Rather as we wait for the opening of Christmas presents people in Israel will wait for the next suicide bomber to strike. And the people of Palestine wait and dream of their own democratic country.

Amidst all this violence and despair one thing stands out. It is the enduring nature of Israel's democracy. On 28 January 2003 the people of Israel will once again vote in their general elections. They will vote just as they have continued to do for over 50 years despite the invasions, the wars and the terrorist attacks by those who would seek to destroy their country.

The enduring nature of Israel's democracy stands in marked contrast to all those other countries of the middle east region where human rights, political freedom and equality are but things to dream of. Countries that have in the past tried to destroy the state of Israel. Some of them still pursue that aim today

Democracy is of course something that we in Australia take for granted. We cherish our right and our opportunity to debate issues, to express our opinions particularly in this Parliament.

It was therefore with some surprise that I read a speech by the Member for Fowler in the House of Representatives last Tuesday 9 December 2002. The Member for Fowler has strong views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are not necessarily views that I share but I acknowledge her right to express them.

However, during her speech the Member for Fowler made some rather astounding claims which simply are not based on fact. Let me refer to the honourable member's speech.

In referring to a Notice of Motion which the Member for Fowler had previously moved, and which had been debated in the House on 11 November, Ms Irwin said,

My motion was an invitation to this House to debate an issue which has not been debated here in living memory.

She went on further to say:

... there is a code of silence in this parliament which forbids the discussion of what is by any description a major issue in world affairs. I would have thought an open discussion of this issue free from party pressure may have been a valuable exercise. Even considering the fact that Australia is not a major player in Middle East affairs, for our national parliament the issue was certainly worthy of debate.

It is simply not true that this issue has not been debated before in the Parliament in living memory as the Member for Fowler claims. It is not true that there is a “code of silence” that prevents discussion or debate on this issue. Rather the opposite is the case. The Middle East conflict has been the subject of much debate and discussion in this Parliament particularly in recent years as the situation in the Middle East worsened.

Parliamentary records show that issues relating to the Middle East and Israel have been raised in this Parliament on 457 occasions in the last four years. Indeed there have been 137 specific references to Israel by way of speeches, statements, etc., just in this past year alone.

Moreover a number of speakers in the debate on Iraq in September this year took the opportunity to express their views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most of them involved an attack upon Israel whilst ignoring the real issue namely the appalling record of Saddam Hussein.

The Member for Fowler went on in her speech on 9 December to say:

In a country which prides itself on its traditions of democracy and free speech you would not think courage was needed to speak on a motion in this parliament. But, later in his article, Alan Ramsey relates the experience of former ABC Middle East correspondent Tim Palmer. In this and other incidents brought to my attention, anyone speaking or writing publicly on the Middle East can expect to be subjected to personal attacks and to have assumptions made about their reasons for raising the issue.

Frankly, this is an exaggeration. You do not need courage to express your views in Australia about the Middle East crisis. Hardly a week goes by without some commentator, academic or journalist providing their views or analysis on the conflict. The letters to the Editor columns and opinion pages in our newspapers and TV current affairs programs constantly contain articles or provide coverage of the dispute.

I am not aware of anyone in the Australian Labor Party or in any other political party being prevented from expressing their views on the Middle East conflict.

No doubt there are occasional personal attacks. If you are involved in this emotional debate you have to expect them even if you don't like them. I regularly receive emails and letters from people claiming that I and anyone who supports Israel is an apologist for Zionism or part of some world-wide Jewish conspiracy. Indeed some of the venom and language is so vile and warped that it is clear anti-semitism is still very much alive.

One disturbing event was the attempt earlier this year by some academics both locally and overseas to organise a petition calling for a boycott of Israeli academics and Israeli academic institutions.

It was not very successful but it did demonstrate just how far some opponents of Israel are prepared to go to pursue their one-sided prejudices. In July this year in the United Kingdom Professor Mona Baker at the University of Manchester sacked two Israeli academics simply because they were Jewish. Professor Baker was a signatory to the petition to boycott that I referred to previously. In a letter to her two colleagues, Professor Gideon Toury and Lecturer Miriam Schlesinger, Professor Baker wrote:

Dear Gideon. I have been agonising for weeks over an important decision: to ask you and Miriam, respectively, to resign from the board of the Translator and Translation Studies Abstracts. I have already asked Miriam and she refused. I have `unappointed' her as she puts it, and if you decide to do the same I will have to officially unappoint you too.

I do not expect you to feel happy about this, and I very much regret hurting your feelings and Miriam's. My decision is political, not personal.

As far as I am concerned, I will always regard and treat you both as friends, on a personal level, but I do not wish to continue an official association with any Israeli under the present circumstances.

What next—burning their books?

As we approach the end of 2002 there maybe some flicker of hope for the Middle East. There are people of courage in Palestine. People who have been prepared to stand up and call for an end to the violence. People who have recognised that the rejection of the Clinton-Barak peace proposals in 2000 and the subsequent Intifada and the past two years of violence were major mistakes that have harmed the cause of Palestinian statehood.

On 19 June 2002, 55 prominent Palestinians including Hanan Ashrawi issued a communique which stated, inter alia:

... we the undersigned, wish to hope that those behind the military actions aimed at harming citizens in Israel will reconsider their acts and cease pushing our youth to carry out these operations, because we do not see them as leading to any results except for increased hatred, enmity, and hostility between the two peoples, deepening the chasm between them and destroying the possibility of both peoples living alongside each other in peace in two neighbouring states.

More significantly however was the recent call by Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen), the second highest-ranking Palestinian leader, for a pause in the Intifada, and a similar acknowledgment by a former Palestinian Authority Minister, Nabil Amr, that the rejection of the Clinton plan and the Intifada had been a costly mistake.

These public challenges indicate that maybe, just maybe, there are people in Palestine who understand that their future lies in negotiation rather than terrorism and violence. That is what democracy is all about. It is the only way forward for the Middle East.