Planit Aerth: Ideas Big & Small
Website of Greg Swensen
Presentations At Seminars Conferences & Workshops

This page contains copies of materials in the form of papers, notes, slides etc prepared and/or used in presentations related to current 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 paper presents findings from an exploratory study of how the mental health system in Western Australia (WA) has managed problematic users of alcohol and how its role evolved over the period from 1900 up to the present day.

The research will consider 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 & review and analysis of a matrix of historical as well as more recent information, to identify the evolution of approaches to manage and treat problematic users of alcohol in WA, based on a custodial focussed approach, undertaken by the mental health services, from 1900 to the mid 1970s. This will also consider subsequent developments, with a major reform from mid 1970s, which established a public health model underpinned by residential detoxification services, and most recently, a system of community-based stand-alone 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 & a lack of personal responsibility & 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 & 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. One of the most visible other components was the criminal justice system, which had a very long history of punishing public drunkenness and other public order consequences associated with alcohol, as well as other controls involving restrictions on access to sale & 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 was as 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 discussed at the conference.

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 & commitment. Subsequent amendments of the Mental Treatment Act enabled a broad 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 & 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 at the conference.

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 & 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 at the conference.

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 at the meeting.

Critical criminology conference, Flinders University, 22-23 July 2013

Fifteen years of cannabis law reform in Western Australia: some lessons for future reform

The presentation discussed the three schemes which have 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 & 3 slides.

Murdoch University Post Graduate Students Association Multidisciplinary Conference, 29 September 2011

The mental health services & treatment of alcohol abuse, Western Australia 1900 – 2010

This presentation will examine the role of mental health services in WA from 1900 up to present in the management of those adversely affected by their use of alcohol.

Over this period the mental health services evolved from having the primary role based on a custodial function as an asylum and place of refuge underpinned by a regime of coercive powers for commitment, to one where the medical profession had a very limited role. This meant since the 1970s responsibility for delivering treatment services has shifted to general practitioners and non-medical providers, in community based settings and with participation in treatment based on the principle of voluntarism.

These changes can be explained by a combination of factors, such as a revolutionary-like shift in the locus of the provision of care from institutions to a community based model, the growth in the status of psychiatry and the importance of allied professions and other groups in providing care to the mentally ill.

It will be shown that reforms of the mental health system, which commenced in the mid 1960s across most Western societies, stemmed from a range of influences. These included the de-institutionalisation of the care of range of people with disabilities and illness, the growth of the knowledge base of the nature of illness drawn from professions such as anthropology, the social sciences and psychology in the care of the mentally ill and increased importance of pharmacotherapies as a method for treating disorders and disease outside of institutional settings.

The primary source for information about this evolution is from information extracted from a variety departmental archives, reports and specially commissioned inquiries.

The paper will outline the legislative reforms which occurred over this period applicable to the treatment of a broad spectrum of mental disorders, as well as reforms specifically concerned with alcoholism. The key pieces of legislation were the Lunacy Act 1903 and the Inebriates Act 1912, both of which were repealed and replaced in July 1966 by the Mental Health Act 1962. The 1962 mental health legislation was replaced by the Mental Health Act 1996.

Click here to view or download a PDF version (1.3MB) of a set of 26 slides presented at the conference.

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.

Murdoch Law School Research Day, 8 November 2010

The role of the community in liquor licensing decision making

A major reform of the Liquor Licensing Act 1988 was flagged in September 2006 when the Western Australian (WA) Government introduced the Liquor and Gaming Legislation Amendment Bill 2006. Of particular interest in this package of reforms was the introduction of a ‘public interest test’ in place of the previous ‘needs test’ to be used by licensing authorities.

The amendment means that applicants for either a new license or renewing an existing liquor license will need to undertake a public interest assessment (PIA), which will include the ‘social, community, economic and health implications and/or benefits’ of the application. See Explanatory memorandum, Liquor and Gaming Legislation Amendment Bill 2006 on the WA Parliament's website.

The bulk of this reform package came into effect in May 2007 (the extension of opening hours for liquor stores commenced 17 December 2006) and resulted in the act being renamed as the Liquor Control Act 1988. These reforms were described as not being merely evolutionary, but represented a major relaxation in the approach to the consumption of alcohol, according to a statement, Background to liquor reform, on the Department of Racing Gaming & Liquor website:

‘In 2006, the State Government initiated the most significant package of reforms to liquor licensing in more than 100 years.

The reforms focus on providing more choice for consumers, but not necessarily more licensed venues; promoting greater levels of innovation within the liquor and hospitality industries; providing opportunity to the small business sector; assisting the tourism sector cater for thousands of visitors to Western Australia; focussing on and promoting harm minimisation principles; and creating a safer liquor environment.’

The purpose of this presentation is examine of whether this claim may be questioned given there were major reforms of the State’s liquor licensing laws which established a framework for a high level of input by the community and oversight of the activities of hotels as part of the reforms when the Licensing Act 1911 was passed in November 1910. There were two periods of structured community input under this legislation, from 1911 to 1921 through local option polls and from 1925 to 1950 when Statewide prohibition polls could be held.

The presentation will consider the results from these polls & examine some of the other features over the period from 1911 up to 1950 that were utilised to support processes for community oversight of the liquor licensing industry. It will be suggested there are a number of similarities between the reforms introduced in 2006 & the period up to 1950 related to the weight placed on community input. This indicates that alcohol remains a problematic issue in spite of changes in attitudes towards its use & the adoption of the concept of self regulation, which has occurred over the past decade.

Click here to view or download a PDF version (2.5Mb) of a set of 32 slides prepared for use in the presentation.

Murdoch University Post Graduate Students Association Multidisciplinary Conference, 29 September 2010

An exploratory study of the use of the criminal law to regulate the use of alcohol by Indigenous people in Western Australia 1900 – 2010

The presentation will consider the system of laws and administrative arrangements which have operated in WA from the beginning of the twentieth century up to the present which have regulated the availability of alcohol and the correlative measures to manage those who transgressed the framework of rules about the use of alcohol.

From the earliest years of European settlement it was apparent that as alcohol had a profound and destructive impact on the lives of Indigenous people, this justified a system of controls on access to and use of alcohol based on racially differentiated criteria. Whilst this occurred throughout all the Australian jurisdictions, the experience of how Indigenous use of alcohol was managed in WA will be specifically examined.

The regulation of access by Indigenous people to alcohol can be understood as one of a wide spectrum of exclusionary and assimilative policies deployed to deal with the ‘native problem’ in the earlier years after establishment of the colony, up to the present day, where it remains a ‘wicked problem’ related to immense social and economic disadvantage.

The specific issue of public drunkenness has for much of this history involved the police in performing an ill-suited role of enforcing unworkable laws based on old English public order offences. This approach has meant the management of the use of alcohol by Indigenous people has been heavily shaped by the shortcomings of the criminal justice system in ‘solving’ problems involving socially marginalised and disadvantaged groups.

The outcome of the decriminalisation of public drunkenness in WA in 1990, largely instituted in response to the work of the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, will also be considered as whether it was a lost opportunity for developing a different understanding of the place of alcohol in Australian society in the lives of Indigenous people.

Click here to view or download a PDF version (582k) of a set of 28 slides prepared for use in the presentation.

Murdoch Law School Research Day, 6 May 2009

A study of the use of the criminal law and other sanctions to manage public drunkenness in WA: 1900 to 2010

The presentation will outline a study of the legal mechanisms that operated and sanctioned a range of punitive and custodial options for managing public drunkenness and those convicted of an offence where the abuse of alcohol was a contributory factor in WA over the period from 1900 up to the present.

The study will encompass a number of areas, such as the evolution of the liquor licensing laws that regulated the consumption, sale and supply of alcohol in WA, the range of measures that were adopted to rehabilitate or punish offenders and the adoption of 'special measures' that imposed restrictions on those who should not have access to alcohol. There will be a number of specific case studies within the overall project covering a number of time periods:

The period from 1963 to 1974 when the Convicted Inebriates’ Rehabilitation Act 1963 (CIRA) was in force in WA, which permitted the lower courts to imprison an offender who had committed a summary offence where drunkenness was an ‘element or contributory cause’ of the offence. This era of coerced rehabilitation within the prisons system, even though it was overseen by the Convicted Inebriates Board, permitted a person to be sentenced as a ‘convicted inebriate’ for a term of up to twelve months within a designed low security prison farm.

The period from 1975 to 2005 after the abolition of the Convicted Inebriates Board and its replacement by the WA Alcohol and Drug Authority (WAADA) in November 1974 through powers contained in the Alcohol and Drug Authority Act 1974. Although the power to obtain a court order to sentence an inebriate under the CIRA was transferred to the Director of the WAADA, this power was apparently never used after November 1974 up to when the CIRA was repealed in November 1989. The repeal of this Act was associated with the passing of the Detention of Drunken Persons Act 1989, which came into operation in April 1990, following the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. This reform resulted in the establishment of sobering up centres, most of which are based in the North West of the State and largely used by Indigenous people.

The period from the early 1910s up to the early 1960s when a system of civil commitment was established under the Inebriates Act 1912-1919, such that alcohol abusers could be committed to a mental hospital. This system remained on the statute books until repealed by the Mental Health Act 1962. This study will highlight an under recognised role of the health system was, and continues to be, to provide rehabilitative services to alcohol abusers as an alternative to imprisonment.

The study will also consider the array of legal and administrative measures over the period of time adopted to restrict access to and use of alcohol by specific groups, such as problematic users of alcohol (eg prohibition orders), women & Indigenous people.

Parallels & similarities with the recent growth in programs which target illicit drug users, involving measures such as conditional cautioning, pre and post trial diversion, drug courts and specialist ‘problem solving courts' will be critically examined. It will be argued that these recent coercive measures have an underlying rehabilitative purpose & share commonalities with the approaches adopted in WA from the beginning of the twentieth century which specifically targeted those who abused alcohol.

Click here to view or download a PDF version (1.1Mb) of the text of the presentation.

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