Being drunk in a pub may soon be illegal as Australia seeks to curb its culture of excess

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The Independent Online

Australasia's hard-drinking lifestyle is under threat from proposals being considered by politicians to outlaw drunkenness in pubs and clubs.

Australasia's hard-drinking lifestyle is under threat from proposals being considered by politicians to outlaw drunkenness in pubs and clubs.

Drinking has been part of Australian culture since convict days, when rum was the unofficial currency of the penal colony of New South Wales. But that culture is now being blamed for an epidemic of alcoholism that in turn leads to domestic violence and carnage on the roads.

The tendency of Australians to drink to excess, particularly in the company of "mates", was under scrutiny at an alcohol summit in Sydney last week.

The conference, organised by the state government, heard of drinking binges - particularly in Aboriginal communities - by children as young as 10. Bob Carr, the premier of New South Wales, admitted that drinking was a way of life but called on Australians to re-evaluate their behaviour.

"As a community, are we willing to tolerate this sort of self-destructive excess?" he asked. "Is it mateship to watch your mate downing schooner [glass of beer] after schooner when you know his wife and kids are already afraid of him? "What sort of mateship [does] nothing when a friend, drunk, gets into a car with a stranger who's been drinking?" The meeting, which was attended by politicians, health professionals and the alcohol industry, recommended policy changes such as barring drinkers who went from pub to pub late at night searching for lock-ins. Plans to introduce a zero alcohol limit for new drivers and penalise patrons found drunk on licensed premises are also being considered.

The conference mirrored a drug summit held by New South Wales in 1999, which led to the opening of a controversial centre where heroin addicts inject themselves under medical supervision.

Predictably, the alcohol industry is unhappy at plans to cut opening hours and fine pubs where violence recurs. John Thorpe, president of the Australian Hotels Association, introduced himself to delegates as "public enemy number one". He told his audience that Jesus had turned water into wine and that alcohol had been served at the Last Supper.

He suggested that Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper should be retitled The Last Supper Without Wine.

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