Alcohol-Related Research

Published research

Swensen, G. 
A short history of managing problematic users of alcohol in Western Australia by mental health services. SUCHT, 2020, 66(2), 71-84.

This paper examines the role that mental health services (MHS) performed in the management and provision of medical care and treatment of problematic users of alcohol in Western Australia (WA) over the period since 1900.

The research involved an examination of legislative enactments and regulations, records of parliamentary debates in Hansard, administrative records in the State Records Office, and other sources of public information, such as departmental annual reports, reviews of services, studies and newspapers. 

This research identified three eras of policy involving problematic users. The first, from 1900 to the mid 1970s, relied on controls in inebriates and lunacy legislation to create a regime of civil commitment, designed to confine and compel ‘inebriates’, as well as ‘convicted inebriates’, to ‘dry out’ and rehabilitate. 

The second, between 1975 and the late 1990s, involved the creation of a state-wide system of specialist service providers to provide treatment and recovery for problematic users. The system involved a spectrum of services that included a detoxification hospital, outpatient clinics and community-based regional services established and operated by a statutory public health agency, the Alcohol and Drug Authority (ADA). 

The third era, which commenced in the late 1990s, involved the transfer of all community-based services from the ADA to ‘not-for-profit’ non-government organisations (NGOs). The end result of this devolution was the ADA retained only a limited treatment role, as the operator of the inpatient detoxification facility. The balance of its functions were redefined in relation to the prevention of the use of alcohol and other drugs, primarily through support of mass public education programs, as well as oversight of funded NGO programs. 

The paper concludes with a consideration of a recent major development which involved administrative and legislative actions in 2015 to abolish the statutory body which had operated since 1975 and transfer administrative responsibility for drug and alcohol services into the Mental Health Commission.

Swensen G. 
The management of public drunkenness in Western Australia: policing the unpoliceable?  Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies, 2017, 23(1), 1 – 24.

This paper examines the role of the criminal justice system in managing public order consequences from the problematic use of alcohol in Western Australia (WA) from its beginnings as a British colony in the 1830s up to the recent present. 

For much of this period until 1990, the dominant approach relied on a broad police power to arrest and charge anyone perceived to be intoxicated in a public place. This reliance on the criminalisation of drunkenness resulted in large numbers of individuals appearing in Magistrate Courts, who, if reoffenders, were exposed to extended terms of imprisonment calculated not to rehabilitate but to punish and isolate. 

Decriminalisation of public intoxication occurred in April 1990, as the result of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC), which established a framework outside the criminal justice system for police to formally divert intoxicated people to sobering up centres (SUCs) instead of detaining them overnight in lock ups.

The paper examines recent reforms of laws which extend the policing of public order through expanded methods of social control involving an array of mechanisms, such as move on notices, infringements and banning orders, to underpin coercive policing and exclusion of those who may threaten social order. 

Without increased critical review and oversight of these reforms it is argued we may see a return to discredited policies of earlier times which were heavily reliant on the criminal justice system to respond to problematic use of alcohol, again raising the spectre of policing the unpoliceable.

Swensen G. 
Public space and alcohol advertising: exploratory role of local government. International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research, 2016, 5(3), 117 – 123.

The paper argues that local government bodies in Western Australia have had a long-standing key role in overseeing public health standards and regulating business activities, potentially it has a major, but under-recognized, capability to regulate the promotion and advertising of alcohol in public places. 

It is contended that because local government bodies already possess extensive statutory powers to undertake this function, there is a compelling case for them to actively regulate alcohol advertising as they “own” most of the public space in Australian cities and towns. 

Accordingly, local government is uniquely placed to perform a front-line role in regulating alcohol advertising in public places because of its reliance on community-based processes of consultation and decision-making for planning & because this would be an extension of a long-standing role concerned with the advancement of public health and traffic safety. 

Unpublished research

Note: Some of these papers do not contain up-to-date information and are included only for historical value or interest.

Swensen (1985) The state & the alcohol industry in Western Australia

This paper was originally published in the March-April 1985 issue of Social Work News, the newsletter of the WA Branch of the Australian Association of Social Workers.

It canvassed some of the implications from the release in 1984 of the reports from two official inquiries in WA, with particular reference to the Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into the Liquor Laws, which was chaired by Judge Syme of the Licensing Court. 

Click here to view or download a PDF version [188k] of this paper.

Swensen (1996) Alcohol caused mental disorders in WA with reference to the Indigenous population, 1981-1991

This paper was written in 1996 and involves an analysis of trends in hospitalisation due to alcoholic psychoses in WA over the period 1981 to 1992 by examining the prevalence of this mental disorder in the Indigenous population compared with the non-Indigenous population in WA.

The context of the study was to develop a better understanding of four interrelated issues involved in Indigenous deaths in custody – incarceration in police cells, alcoholism & acute intoxication, alcohol caused disorders of ideation and perception and suicide. 

Click here to view or download a PDF version [872k] of this paper.

Swensen (1985) The state and the alcohol industry in Western Australia

This paper was originally published in the March-April 1985 issue of Social Work News, the newsletter of the WA Branch of the Australian Association of Social Workers.

It canvassed some of the implications from the release in 1984 of the reports from two official inquiries in WA, with particular reference to the Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into the Liquor Laws, which was chaired by Judge Syme of the Licensing Court. 

Click here to view or download a PDF version [188k] of this paper.

Parliamentary papers

In the first few decades of the Western Australian (WA) Parliament there were a number of members of parliament (MPs) who strongly advocated temperance measures to establish alcohol prohibition in WA.

These measures included establishing State run hotels, reductions in the number of liquor licenses through inquiries by License Reduction Boards, restricting opening hours by six o’clock closing of hotels and conducting local option and prohibition polls to reduce the number of alcohol licenses in local areas.

The advocates of alcohol prohibition policies sought to drastically curtail the availability and consumption of alcohol in the State and drew support and validation for their cause from favourable similar measures introduced elsewhere, which they supported by investigations and reviews.

Operation of the liquor laws of New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand (1909)

This 14 page report, which was tabled in the WA Parliament in 1909, was the result of an investigation undertaken by Alfred Carson at the instigation of the Premier of the time, James Moore. As suggested in the report’s concluding paragraph, there was a sense of parochial satisfaction with the State’s alcohol policies at that time.

‘I cannot conclude this report without saying that, whatever the demerits of the liquor traffic in our own State, the average character of our licensed premises is incomparably higher than those which came under my notice in any one of the States I visited, and this notwithstanding that in Victoria, New South Wales, and New Zealand the process of eliminating redundant licenses, by one means or another, has been in progress for years.’ (page 15)

Click here to view or download a PDF [1.8Mb] copy of Carson’s report.

Prohibition in North America (1923)

This 40 page report, which was conducted by Thomas Walker MLA, which was tabled in the WA Parliament in 1923, presented information obtained through interviews, from statistical materials and various written materials garnered from a tour by the Attorney General between February and June 1923 that involved 16 American States and 6 Canadian Provinces.

Thomas Walker had been the Attorney General in the Mitchell government, which held office between May 1919 and April 1924 and was a passionate supporter for the adoption of the principles of prohibitlon in WA –

‘In the public schools of America scientific facts regarding alcohol are now being generally taught. The coming generations will know the truth, and after all perhaps the strongest foundation for a prohibition edifice is scientific education. There are those who believe that that is the only way of attaining ultimate National sobriety, but as the PremIer of a great State you will recognise, I think, that if science demonstrates that alcohol, however moderately consumed, is a menace to the longevity of the citizens of the State, and to the continuance of a virile race, it is the duty of the law-makers of the Nation, without waiting until all the ignorance of the people has been removed, to take action. 

A wise statesman would not wait until all the people had been educated to the evil effects and the dangers of the plague, or any lesser epidemic, before he placed laws upon the statute book prescribing regulations limiting the “personal liberty” of the subjects of the State so as to prevent the spread of any malady productive of fatality or the permanent injury to the victims of the disease.’ (page 39)

Click here to view or download a PDF [4.1Mb] copy of Walker’s report.

Select Committee into Alcohol & Drugs – Appendix C (1984)

The Select Committee into Alcohol and Drugs, chaired by Gordon Hill MLA, tabled its report in the WA Parliament in May 1984. A novel feature of this inquiry was the inclusion of research which outlined in some detail the impact of alcohol related problems in WA, encompassing both the health and criminal justice systems, as an appendix.

This separate examination of alcohol related problems, including extensive information about impact of policy measures, such as reductions in availability of alcohol and augmentation of law enforcement measures, was undertaken by the ADA’s then Research psychologist Dr Ian Smith. This research was published as Appendix C: Availability of alcoholic beverages and crime: An example of the value of social policy research..

Click here to view or download a PDF version (2.4Mb) of Appendix C of the report.