What Are the Lockout and Drinking Laws in Australia?

Most people in Australia enjoy an alcoholic drink now and then and of course, like in any country, some people enjoy it more than is wise. The government is constantly working towards keeping the drinking and non-drinking public safe in Australian communities and have established lockout and drinking laws.

The aim of these laws is to prevent harm, maintain law and order, and still enable revellers to enjoy themselves.

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Major alcohol laws Australia has introduced

The legal books are overflowing with laws to do with the consumption, purchase and sale of alcohol in Australia. Basically, you cannot drive under the influence of alcohol, drink or purchase alcohol unless you are 18 years or older, and it’s an offence to supply alcohol to anyone younger than 18.

The following are the three most important ones that anyone visiting or living in this country should be aware of.

  • Minimum legal drinking age – The most basic alcohol law that Australia has introduced is the minimum legal drinking age. A person must be aged 18 years or over to drink in public. What happens in the privacy of one’s own home is a different matter however 18 is still considered the law. The rules are extremely strict and licensed premises can be fined huge sums of money if found to be serving alcohol to underage patrons. For the consumer, not only is it illegal to drink alcohol on licensed premises but it is also illegal to purchase it or supply it to someone else. Penalty for suppliers to underage drinkers: Fines and possible imprisonment. Penalty for underage drinkers: Fines.
  • Blood alcohol limits for drivers – In Australia, drivers on their open (unrestricted) license must keep to below 0.05 grams of alcohol to every 100 millilitres of blood. The 0.05 limit applies even if the driver is sitting in the driver’s seat of the car without the engine switched on. For those on a learner’s permit (L plates) or a provisional license (P plates), the legal alcohol limit is zero and the police have a zero-tolerance approach to it as well. Penalty for drink-driving: fines, disqualification from driving and possible imprisonment depending on the severity of the charge.
  • Drinking alcohol in public – In some states of Australia, it is illegal to carry and/or consume open alcohol (such as a glass or opened can or bottle) out in public streets in some places. For instance, some local councils prohibit the consumption of alcohol in entertainment precincts, near railway stations, at beaches and at family-friendly venues and events. In Queensland, for instance, drinking alcohol is illegal on beaches. Penalty: Those caught drinking in public will have their alcohol confiscated and be made to pay a fine.

How much is a standard drink?

How much alcohol a person can drink before reaching the 0.05 limit depends on their body weight, whether they have eaten, what alcohol they’re consuming and even how tired they are or the altitude of their location! Because it can be so hard to gauge, people often take turns being the designated driver in their group who will drink no alcohol. One outing, one person will drive and next time, someone else will drive.

A standard drink in Australia is any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol, regardless of the type of alcohol (e.g. beer, wine, spirit) and size of container (e.g. glass, bottle, can). Always read the container for the exact number of standard drinks.

Australia’s lockout laws

To others from around the world, Australia’s lockout laws seem a bit archaic, but they have been established in response to major incidents such as deaths due to alcohol abuse. The current state of play is that where they are in effect, there is no tolerance for those who don’t follow the law.

These laws are in place in Brisbane and Sydney. They were trialled in Melbourne however they were not continued after the trial ended. In Adelaide, CBD venues are not allowed to permit entry to patrons after 3am.

Since the laws continue to change depending on changes of government and appeals by various elements of the community such as premises owners and victims of crime groups, it’s unwise to post here the exact rules for each city or state. When you visit a city or town in Australia, be sure to check what the lockout laws are there, if any.

How the lockout laws work in Sydney

At 1.30am, lockouts are imposed in licensed pubs, bars and clubs in Sydney’s CBD entertainment precinct. That means no one is allowed to enter but those already inside can stay. It also means you don’t want to leave a club or pub around that time because you won’t get in anywhere else. At 3am, last drinks are offered, after which time, you cannot purchase alcohol. There is an exemption for venues in the precinct that have poker machines installed. Patrons are allowed to enter as long as a) alcohol is not served past 1.30am and b) no entertainment is provided except poker machines and background entertainment.

The use of ID scanners

Entry into pubs, clubs and bars in many venues in Australia is conditional upon your ID being scanned. Special scanning machines are used which detect not only fake IDs but also raise alerts as to banned patrons trying to enter. When visiting these types of venues, you must be carrying your driver’s license, passport or acceptable student identification card.

Patrons who have been ejected from venues for harmful behaviours such as drug use, theft, fighting and sexual assault are listed on the Banned Patrons List. If they try to enter a licensed venue, they will be rejected because their ID will show up on the scanner.

ID scanning is a hot topic, with complaints arising frequently about how long it takes to process entering patrons. One of the more provocative issues arose when Prince Frederick of Denmark visited a nightclub in Brisbane in August 2017 and was turned away because he didn’t have any ID on him! The incident proves to show that even the rich and world-famous can’t sidestep these laws.

Alcohol and your health

Nothing ruins a good night out like drunken behaviour. You may be completely sober or happily tipsy but encounter people who are way beyond their limits so keep your wits about you. Ongoing and regular drinking can have harmful effects on your health and can lead to organ damage. Alcohol can also increase your risk of developing certain cancers and harm your baby during pregnancy.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends you drink no more than two standard drinks per day. Drink responsibly for your own wellbeing and the sake of others.