Confession time: I don’t drink alcohol. I know, I am un-Australian and clearly do not know how to have a good time. In my defence, I wouldn’t know how to have a good time even if I did drink. I slur my speech, stumble around, and say stupid things to women (‘women’ in my case meaning my wife and our cat) every moment of every day. The only difference between the way I act normally and the way a typical drunk man acts is that I can’t blame my behaviour on alcohol (and neither should you!).
For better or worse, we are a society of drinkers, with many of us getting our first taste at a young age at a house party or after-school formal soirée, possibly on some of your parents’ finest cooking sherry that you found tucked away at the back of the pantry cupboard. Putting my personal beliefs and opinions on alcohol use and abuse by the youth of today to one side, a question that I am sure many younger readers have is whether someone under the age of eighteen can legally buy and drink alcohol at such an event, or indeed at any time.
Parents of children under the age of eighteen, you might want to skip this part. My parents often tell me that the only way they got through raising my brother and I without suffering from soul-destroying levels of anxiety and grief was because of their deliberate decision to remain blissfully ignorant of what we were getting up to. In the case of my brother, I think their deliberate blissful ignorance has continued up to this day.
Back to the question at hand: are there any ways you can legally obtain and drink alcohol before you turn eighteen?
Bad news first, pre-adult readers. If you are under eighteen, it is illegal for you to buy alcohol from a pub, bar, or licensed venue, or have someone buy you a drink from one of these places for you to drink there. The same rules apply to all public spaces, like parks, the beach, and sports stadiums. Regardless of how you got the alcohol, if you consume it in public and you are under the age of eighteen, then you are breaking the law.
Good news time. That is about it in terms of legal restrictions on your consumption of good old grog. There are no other specific laws that prevent you from drinking before you turn eighteen. However, your decision to drink before you turn eighteen can have legal consequences for your parents, carers, or other adults. If you care about that stuff, and you should!
The laws of all states and territories allow your parents to make their own decision on whether you can drink alcohol in the family home before you turn eighteen. That means that it is legal for your parents to give you, their underage child, an alcoholic drink within the family home, and for you to drink it. However, if your parents give you so much alcohol that it becomes a danger to you, or causes you mental or physical harm, they will be in breach of child endangerment laws.
If your aunt or uncle, or cousin, or godfather or godmother, or family friend or neighbour, or random weird dude you met on the streets, was the person who gave you an alcoholic drink when you were under eighteen, then in almost all states and territories this is illegal. It is known as ‘secondary supply’ to an underaged person and a breach of the law by the person doing the giving (but not by you, as the person doing the consuming – you are not doing anything illegal, yet). The only exception to this is where your parents expressly authorised that ‘other’ person to give you a drink of alcohol, and the consumption of alcohol was all done on private property under the supervision of that other person.
Some states and territories, such as New South Wales and the Northern Territory, put further legal restrictions on underaged people drinking on private property. These laws require your parents to actively supervise your and your friends’ consumption of alcohol and ensure that it is being done in a responsible and safe manner. If your parents’ lack of supervision means that you and your friends get shit-faced drunk in the family home and cause property damage or make so much noise that the police are called out, then your parents might be hit with a fine, court summons, or other legal consequences (particularly if something bad happens to you or your mates because of their lack of supervision).
Adults that allow people under eighteen to drink on their private property are also legally responsible for the consequences of that drinking. For example, if you are a parent and your underage child has a party where people under the age of eighteen are drinking, then legally you are meant to get the express consent from the parents of everyone attending before the partygoers can drink alcohol in your home or on your property.
Oh, one quick final note to the minors reading this section, who might want to try to use a fake ID to buy alcohol, or get into pubs and clubs, while underage.
Using a fake ID is very, very illegal, and most of the ones you can buy are completely shit. Trust me, don’t throw away your money on a fake ID, or waste your future by trying to use one. It will not end well. There are no exceptions or legal loopholes when it comes to fake IDs. Get caught with a fake ID, and it can have a long-term impact on your life, particularly when it comes to job applications that ask if you have ever been convicted of a criminal offence. Just stay home and drink sensibly and in moderation, under the watchful eyes of your parents. Sad, I know, but ultimately legal.