Conferences & Seminars

This page has slides an texts of presentations to workshops, symposia and conferences related to recent research.

45th Annual Alcohol Epidemiology Symposium of Kettil Brunn Society, Utrecht, Netherlands, 3-7 June 2019

History of the role of mental health services in Western Australia of managing problematic users of alcohol

This draft paper presented findings from an exploratory study of how the mental health system in Western Australia (WA) managed problematic users of alcohol and how its role evolved over the period from 1900 up to recently.

The research considered the role of mental health services as a setting for managing problematic users of alcohol and of how treatment in this setting interacted with and supported broader policies to regulate of the use of alcohol, to minimise its harms and to maintain social order, within a broader framework of governmentality. 

The research strategy involved the compilation and review and analysis of a matrix of historical as well as more recent information, to identify the evolution of eras that managed and treated problematic users of alcohol in WA. This involved a custodial focussed approach, undertaken by the mental health services, from 1900 to the mid 1970s, followed by a major reform from mid 1970s, which established a public health model, and most recently, of a community-based quasi-market model of specialist treatment providers. 

The exploratory nature of this research will involve the use of a range of legislative texts, historical materials, official records and statistical data to interpret the evolution of the role performed by the mental health system in managing problematic users of alcohol. The purpose of the research is to examine whether the detention and treatment of inebriates was a form of moral regulation that assuaged community concerns about disorder and a lack of personal responsibility and the extent to which this approach formed part of a broader system of controls to regulate the use of alcohol. 

The proposition that the use of alcohol requires controls rests on a conflicted understanding about alcohol, that unfettered use of alcohol is not possible and it should be constrained through a regulatory framework of liquor licensing and other legislation, as without controls alcohol represents a risk to social order, to community well-being as well as being harmful to some groups of the population.

Therefore, as a system of regulation is posited as inevitable, because it is a ‘manifestation of an anxiety of freedom that haunts modern liberal forms of rule,’ this raises the question of why the mental health system played such a pivotal role in WA, for about 75 years, in managing problematic users of alcohol. 

It is argued the mental health system should not be seen as acting in isolation from other regulatory mechanisms, but that it functioned as one component of a broader framework of controls. Another regulatory mechanism was the system of controls involving the criminal justice system, which had a very long history of punishing public drunkenness and other public order consequences associated with alcohol.

In addition, other regulatory mechanisms involved the controls on access to sale and use of alcohol contained in liquor licensing laws and prohibitions which had historically targeted Indigenous people through ‘native welfare’ legislation.

Of particular interest is how the framework of provisions in inebriate and mental legislation that operated over the period up to the 1970s, enabled the alcohol industry to be lightly regulated. This meant the causes of alcohol-related mental disorders, as well as public drunkenness and other consequences from problematic alcohol use, were regarded as individual shortcomings, not regulatory failures.

Click here to view or download a PDF version (661k) of the draft text presented.

12th Annual Limina Conference, Perth, Western Australia, 27 – 28 July 2017

The management of problematic alcohol users in Western Australia

Though the prodigious use of alcohol in Australia is a well-known, if not celebrated, feature of Australia’s ‘national character’ since colonization, what is not so well-known is the institutional arrangements, in addition to those deployed by the criminal justice system to manage those whose use of alcohol was regarded as problematic.

This presentation described the history of the unique and important role undertaken by the mental health system in Western Australia (WA) in relation to those who had become seriously affected by alcohol.

Throughout the period from when WA was established as a colony until the early 1970s, the mental health system provided the framework for a custodial focused approach for dealing with those so affected by alcohol from either acute intoxication, who were alcohol dependent or had other alcohol-caused mental disorders.

The presentation will review of how legislative and administrative provisions in so-called inebriates and lunacy legislation, as well as subsequent mental health laws, were used to confine and compel the ‘treatment’ of inebriates.

The unrecognised significance of an alternative ‘voluntary’ regime developed from the 1920s, under the Mental Treatment Act 1917 will also be examined in relation to the voluntary of alcohol-related mental disorders. 

This legislation though adopted to enable veterans from the First World War with mental disorders of ‘recent origin arising from wounds, shock, disease, stress, exhaustion, or any other cause’ to be treated separately from asylum-based confinement that operated under the Lunacy Act 1903 and Inebriates Act 1912, both of which were reliant on certification and commitment. Subsequent amendments of the Mental Treatment Act 1917 enabled a broader range of people, not just war veterans, to be admitted without certification to a ‘reception home’ or a ‘hospital for the insane’.

The research will also trace the development since the 1970s of a public health system that was based on only voluntary admission to a separate system of treatment facilities, established through the Alcohol and Drug Authority Act 1974, which was part of a major reform to create a broader systemic approach to the management of problematic use of alcohol, encompassing prevention, education and treatment. 

This replaced a system of civil commitment adopted in WA in the early 1960s, under the Convicted Inebriates Rehabilitation Act 1963, a regime of court ordered detention and treatment of problematic users of alcohol within a low security prison, after the mental health system resisted in continuing to accept people for detoxification and treatment. 

Click here to view or download a PDF version (1.5MB) of a set of 37 slides presented at the conference.

Click here to view or download a PDF version (312k) of the draft text presented.

Australian & New Zealand Law & History Society Conference, University of Adelaide, 10-12 December 2015

Management of public drunkenness in Western Australia 1900 – 2010: The courts, police, prisons and health services

The paper identifies how in Western Australia (WA) between 1900 and 1975 institutional-centric policies were implemented based on powers exercised by the criminal justice and mental health systems to punish and/or restrain those individual’s whose problematic use of alcohol came to official attention. The outcome of these policies, which were underpinned by the criminalisation of public drunkenness, was that the State experienced extraordinary high rates of conviction in the Magistrates Courts, imprisonment in its prisons and civil commitments to asylums that involved large numbers of individuals.

Examples of consequences of these approaches were that up until the mid 1920s about one third of all charges dealt with by the courts were for public drunkenness, that public drunkenness charges involving Indigenous people were relatively uncommon, typically making up about one in 20 of all charges until the late 1940s & subsequently increased to about one quarter of all charges, and that public drunkenness commitments to prisons made up about one third of all commitments until the early 1970s. 

A number of consequences will be identified, such as variations in offences related to gender during World Wars I and II and of how whilst relatively few Indigenous people were dealt with the courts over the first four decades, from the beginning of the 1960s the representation of Indigenous people for public drunkenness increased.

The study indicates that dissatisfaction by the late 1960s with the reliance on rigorous law enforcement measures became discredited and resulted in public support for a stand alone health system, apart from both the public hospital and mental health systems, to assume responsibility for delivering treatment services on a non-coercive basis.

The State’s colonial heritage with be referred to, which involved a system of harsh and escalating punitive consequences originally devised in Tudor times & which became of the response to public order issues when the colony was settled in 1829 by Britain, as well as the adoption of repressive policies over the period to detain and confine those with alcohol-related mental disorders to mental asylums, of legislation for the courts to detain inebriates in designated institutions and the operation of a system of discriminatory apartheid-like controls to control the use of alcohol by Indigenous people throughout WA.

It will be argued, whilst medical knowledge now plays a dominant role in contemporary alcohol policy in WA and other jurisdictions, from a historical perspective, there are commonalities with earlier policies, because of the persistence of the concept for the individual should be regarded as responsible for regulating his or her use of alcohol. 

Click here to view or download a PDF version (1.7MB) of a set of slides that were presented.

Alcohol policy research: Thematic meeting of Kettil Bruun Society, Melbourne, 8-11 September 2014

Public space & alcohol advertising: Exploratory study of the role of local government

The presentation considers there is a potential major, but under recognised role for local government to support measures to reduce consequences from the excessive consumption of alcohol through its extensive and well-established power to regulate public health and safety in public places, by implementing policy measures and adopting local laws to regulate the advertising and promotion of alcohol in public places.

It is contended there should be a more rigorous approach to oversight of alcohol advertising in public places, which has been overlooked as the regulatory frameworks for alcohol advertising that have existed for some years have been developed and focussed on the printed and electronic media. Community concern about the proliferation of alcohol-related advertising in public spaces and that this needs to be regulated was reaffirmed in a review by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Affairs, Reclaiming public space, published in July 2011.

The presentation explores the possibility that as local government ‘owns’ most of the public space in Australian cities, it has a key role to regulate alcohol advertising in public places, arising from its responsibility for and provision of public infrastructure such as footpaths, roads, bus shelters and street furniture like seating and bins. A case study is included based on the City of Subiaco, a Perth metropolitan local authority, as an illustrative example of the existence of a set of well developed policies & statutory instruments to manage public space.

The paper also suggests that in order for local government to undertake this role of specifically regulating alcohol advertising some of the constraints and impediments that they face need to be considered as this & other forms of advertising can represent an important source of revenue & that local authorities need to develop a community-based decision-making and oversight model to avoid the poor record of oversight that has occurred in other media through the industry self-regulation model.

Click here to view or download a PDF version (2.1MB) of a set of slides that were presented.

Click here to view or download a PDF version (479k) of a draft of the text presented.

Critical Criminology Conference, Flinders University, 22-23 July 2013

Fifteen years of cannabis law reform in Western Australia: 1998 – 2013. Some lessons for future reform

The presentation discussed three cannabis depenalisation schemes which operated in Western Australia (WA) over the 15 year period from 1998 to 2013:

  • the Cannabis cautioning mandatory education scheme (CCMES) which operated from 1998 to 21 March 2004, 
  • the Cannabis infringement notice (CIN) scheme which operarted from 22 March 2004 to 31 July 2011 and 
  • the Cannabis infringement requirement (CIR) scheme which has operated from 1 August 2011 up to the present.

The presentation included a discussion of the legislative frameworks that were utilised to establish these schemes, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 and the Cannabis Control Act 2003 as well as details of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment (Cannabis Cautioning Notices) Bill 1999 and the Poisons Amendment (Cannabis for Medical and commercial Purposes) Bill 1999, which failed to be passed by the Western Australian Parliament.

Statistical data about the operation of the CIN and CIR schemes was also referred to, which are presented in tables and figures in the text of the presentation. 

The paper suggests that over the 15 year period since 1998 the three reforms did not result in liberalisation of cannabis laws in WA, but on the contrary were opportunities for governments to increase the repressive nature of penalties of existing offences and make amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 to extend the scope of drug laws to further criminalise and penalise those who use cannabis. 

Click here to view or download a PDF version (834k) of the text of the presentation, which consists of a total of 38 pages, 21 pages of text, 13 tables, 7 figures and 3 slides.

Symposium of the Kettil Bruun Society, Melbourne, Victoria, 11-15 April 2011

Approaches to managing public drunkenness, Western Australia, 1900 to 2010

Paper presented at 37th Annual Alcohol Epidemiology Symposium of the Kettil Bruun Society, Melbourne, Victoria, 11-15 April 2011.

Click here to view or download a PDF version (938k) of this paper.