Alcohol is Australia’s most widely used drug, but it can cause significant harm to people and society, especially when consumed at risky levels.
Every Australian state and territory have laws governing the use and service of alcohol. These laws have consequences (such as fines, imprisonment or disqualification from driving).
In Victoria, there are alcohol laws and consequences relating to:
- drinking in a public place
- underage drinking
- liquor licensing
- drink driving.
You are breaking the law anywhere in Australia if you drink and drive with a blood alcohol concentration over 0.05.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation has more information about blood alcohol levels and how alcohol affects you.
Victoria’s laws for drinking in a public place
Under Victoria’s Summary Offences Act 1966, there are a few ways you can get in trouble with the law while drinking in a public place.
Drunk in a public place
If you’re drunk in a public place, there are three offences you can be arrested and charged with under the Act.
These offences are:
- Drunk in a public place – police may think you’re drunk if your speech, coordination, balance or behaviour is noticeably affected and they believe it’s because you’ve been drinking alcohol.
- Drunk and disorderly in a public place – drunk and acting in a way that disturbs the peace or interferes with others, or is interpreted as intending to do so.
- Drunk and behaving in a riotous or disorderly manner – drunk and acting in a way that makes a member of the public fear a breach of the peace is likely. It’s also a more serious version of the disorderly offence and is used if the police think your behaviour is severe.
If you’re convicted of one of these offences, you’ll incur a penalty:
- Drunk in a public place – a maximum of 8 penalty units.
- Drunk and disorderly – first offence (a maximum of 20 penalty units or 3 days in prison). Second or subsequent offence (20 penalty units or 1 month in prison).
- Drunk and behaving in a riotous or disorderly manner – maximum of 10 penalty units or prison for 2 months.
A penalty unit is how a fine is calculated. The amount of one penalty unit is indexed and increases each year on 1 July. Currently, one penalty unit is $165.22. Victoria Legal Aid has more information about current penalty unit rates.
Violence trouble spots
Under the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998, certain areas shown to have a greater tendency for alcohol related violence and antisocial behaviour can be classified as ‘designated areas’. Such a determination is made by the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) in consultation with the Chief Commissioner of Police.
Once a place has been classified as a designated area, Victoria Police has the power to ban people from that area for up to 72 hours, or up to 12 months for repeat offenders (for offences including drunkenness, physical assault, destroying or damaging property and failure to leave licensed premises).
Barring problem customers from licensed premises
There are three ways a problem customer can be denied access to a licensed premises:
- General powers to refuse entry – every licensee can:
- Refuse entry to their premises to any person (so long as this refusal is non-discriminatory).
- Ask any person to leave their premises.
- Banning entry under a liquor accord – licensees can also join a ‘liquor accord agreement’. (Such as licensees in a local community area.) Members of a liquor accord can ban a troublesome person from the premises of participating members.
- Issuing a Barring Order.
Under the Liquor Control Reform Act, Victoria Police, licensees or ‘responsible persons’ can issue a Barring Order that is enforceable by Victoria Police. Such an order can be issued if:
- you’re drunk, violent or arguing
- someone in authority believes there is a serious or immediate risk that someone will be harmed because you’ve been drinking.
Once a person is served with a Barring Order, they must leave the venue and its vicinity (the area within 20 metres of the venue). They cannot return until the Barring Order expires.
If a person does not comply with the requirements of a Barring Order, Victoria Police may issue them with an on-the-spot fine.
Barring can be for up to 1 month, if it’s your first order. If you’ve been barred more than once, you can be barred for up to 6 months.
Victoria’s laws for underage drinking
The legal drinking age in Victoria is 18. If you’re under 18, there are several ways you can get in trouble with the law if you buy or drink alcohol.
If you’re under 18, you’re not allowed to buy alcohol, even if you’re buying it for an adult (someone over the age of 18).
If you ask your friends (over 18) to buy alcohol for you, and they give you the alcohol, they can get fined.
Going to a pub, bar or other licensed premises
If you are under 18, you are not allowed to be in a licensed place (such as a bar or pub)where alcohol is served unless one or more of the following applies:
- you are with a responsible adult
- you are having a meal
- you are a resident of the licensed place
- you are employed by the licensed venue but not involved in the supply of alcohol
- you are completing an approved training program in hospitality.
You, the person who is serving you, and the owner of the licensed place, can be fined if you’re caught and do not satisfy one or more of the above categories.
A liquor licensee can be fined up to $19,343 for selling alcohol to a minor.
Proof of age
You may be asked for proof of age in a licensed place. People selling alcohol in licensed places can be fined if they serve alcohol to someone who is under the legal drinking age.
It’s an offence to give a false name and address, or to refuse to show proof of age, and you can be fined.
Your driver’s licence is the best proof of age, but if you don’t yet have it, you can get a proof of age card which is recognised across Australia. Application forms are available at some VicRoads and Australia Post offices and the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.
Underage drinking in private homes
Parents or guardians can provide alcohol to their own children under the age of 18 in their private home.
In someone else’s home, it is illegal for a person to provide alcohol to someone under 18 without permission from their parent or guardian. Adults who do so face fines of up to $19,343.
It’s advisable for anyone who is organising parties for young people under 18 to get written permission from their parents or guardians. This also applies to social visits.
The Liquor Control Reform Act requires adults supplying alcohol to anyone under 18 in their home to demonstrate responsible supervision of the supply of liquor.
Factors considered when determining whether responsible supervision has been demonstrated include:
- the age of the minor
- whether the person supplying the liquor is intoxicated
- whether the minor consumes food with the liquor
- whether the person supplying the liquor is providing supervision of the minor’s consumption of the liquor
- the quantity and type of liquor supplied
- the period over which the liquor is supplied
- whether the minor is intoxicated.
Penalties for underage drinking
Alcohol has some serious health risks for teenagers and contributes to all the leading causes of death for young people. Penalties are in place to help to minimise risks for anyone under 18.
The maximum penalty is 60 penalty units for any adult who:
- allows an unauthorised person under 18in a licensed place
- serves alcohol to a person under 18
- buys alcohol for someone underage.
An employee who serves alcohol to someone under 18 can be fined up to 10 penalty units.
The maximum penalty for a person under 18 who buys or drinks alcohol or who is found on licensed premises when they are not authorised to be there is 5 penalty units.
Victoria’s liquor licensing laws
Every state and territory have liquor licensing laws. Liquor licences regulate:
- who supplies liquor
- who it is supplied to
- when it is supplied or consumed
- where it is supplied or consumed
- how it is supplied.
In Victoria, the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 controls the sale and supply of alcohol, and one of its objectives is to minimise alcohol-related harm.
The VCGLR administers Victoria’s liquor licensing laws. It’s an independent statutory authority responsible for:
- administering liquor licences
- undertaking disciplinary action where necessary
- promoting awareness of and voluntary compliance with the State’s liquor laws.
Generally, anyone who intends to sell or provide liquor in Victoria must have a liquor licence from the VCGLR, but there are a number of exemptions.
People have the right to object to an application for a liquor licence.
Breaches of a liquor licence carry penalties. Details can be found in the VCGLR’s Liquor fact sheets.
Victoria’s laws for drinking and driving
The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for fully licensed drivers in Victoria, and all other states and territories, is 0.05.
A zero BAC is required for:
- drivers on a probationary licence (P plates) or learner permit (L plates)
- bus and taxi drivers
- drivers of trucks over 15 tonnes.
If you are convicted of drink driving you may face severe penalties, such as:
- loss of licence
If you lose your licence or learner permit due to drink driving you must install a VicRoads approved alcohol interlock to any vehicle you drive. This is a requirement to have your licence or permit reissued.
It is also an offence to drink alcohol while driving a car, or while sitting beside someone who is learning to drive, even if there is no alcohol detected in the driver's blood or breath.
Significant penalties apply in Victoria to drivers who are caught driving with a combination of illicit drugs in their system and a blood or BAC reading over the legal limit.
Where to get help