Is it illegal for underage teens to drink at parties?

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When my son wanted to have a ‘gatho’ at home for his birthday, my instinct was to say no. Waaaay to risky to be the parent of the teen party. But he won me over, and so I got stuck into the research. I wanted to know how to manage others kids drinking (because, of course, it would never be my angel who drinks or bongs on at 16 – ha!). My research quickly had me confused AF: did you know that in most states of Australia, it’s not actually illegal for underage teens to drink at parties?!?

As well as the Australian legal drinking age (18 years old), which covers drinking at licensed venues, each state has its own Secondary Supply law. This covers drinking in private, unlicensed places like your home.

Only Queensland says you can’t serve alcohol to minors in your home if they’re not your own kids. All the other states allow it if you have permission from the parents of the minors. In the Northern Territory, you don’t even need that, you only need to let other parents know that alcohol is going to be served.

I had always assumed that the legal drinking age is 18 in Australia, and that’s that. Anything else is underage drinking and illegal. Not true!

Permission from the parents

So, most states and territories allow minors to drink in your home as long as you have permission from the parent or guardian of the minor. Like I said, this was a big shock to me – I had no idea that the law allowed minors to drink alcohol without their parent present. But it does.

Frankly, that’s a massive responsibility on any parent of a teen hosting a party. Even assuming each kid managed to bring the necessary written permission from home (trust me, this is not a time to rely on a phone call). You can imagine how many of those ‘written letters’ would be forged by a sneaky 14-year-old eager to get on the grog.

Read this too: Parents, from all of us, please, please stop giving in to your kids

Responsible stone-cold-sober supervision

You also need to ‘responsibly supervise’ all the drinking kids. This means you need to supply food, you need to be actively present and keeping and eye on things, and you need to ensure none of the kids gets intoxicated. Oh, and you can’t pour yourself a stiff one to get through this night of horror either… no drinking on the job.

As well as needing the permission of the parents and being responsible, there are plenty of other rules around the minors drinking in your home. These vary by state, so let’s take a look at each state’s requirements. I’ll give you a link to where you can find out more info.

A sobering read: “You probably won’t know your teen is smoking pot”

Is it illegal for underage teens to drink at parties

Note: The following is for information purposes only, and is correct at the time of publication, meaning information may not always be up to date. Always check your state’s government or police website for the most up to date information.

Also note that this article applies to alcohol at teen parties, not drugs. Under no circumstances is it ever legal for a minor (or anyone, ever) to take drugs in your home.

Secondary supply law: New South Wales

Where I live in NSW, you have to have a parent’s or guardian’s authorisation in order to supply alcohol to a minor in your home. There are several factors involved and an on-the-spot $1,100 fine can be issued if you’re found in breach. In addition to the on-the-spot fine, a court can impose fines of up to $11,000 and/or 12 months imprisonment. The caveats are:

  • the age of the minor
  • whether the person supplying the alcohol is intoxicated
  • if the minor is consuming the alcohol with food
  • whether the minors consumption of alcohol is being responsibly supervised by the person supplying the liquor
  • the quantity of liquor and the period of time over which it is supplied

If a minor is intoxicated, there are no circumstances under which it’s okay to supply them with alcohol. 

More info: NSW alcohol and young people law.

Secondary supply law: Australian Capital Territory

To serve alcohol to a minor in your home, you need permission from the child’s parent or guardian and provide responsible supervision while they are drinking.

More info: ACT secondary supply of alcohol to minors.

Secondary supply law: Victoria

To serve alcohol to a minor in your home, you need permission from the child’s parent or guardian and provide responsible supervision while they are drinking.

More info: Supply of liquor to minors

Secondary supply law: Northern Territory

It’s legal for a person under 18 to drink at a party at a private home when served by a parent or guardian and responsibly supervised. You need to let parents of the kids attending know that alcohol will be served, but you don’t need their permission. 

More info: Young people and parties

Secondary supply law: Queensland

You can only serve alcohol in your home to your own child or guard and only if you supervise them responsibly. You can face court and be fined up to $10,676 for supplying alcohol to a person under 18 in your home, if you are not their parent, step-parent or guardian and providing responsible supervision.

More info: Supplying alcohol to under 18s

SA (also, this handy summary)

Secondary supply law: Tasmania

To serve alcohol to a minor in your home, you need permission from the child’s parent or guardian and provide responsible supervision while they are drinking.

More info: Youth and alcohol 

Secondary supply law: Western Australia

To serve alcohol to a minor in your home, you need permission (preferably in writing) from the child’s parent or guardian and provide responsible supervision while they are drinking. Supplying alcohol to a young person under the age of 18 without parental permission carries a maximum $10,000 penalty.

More info: Alcohol laws for under 18s

Is it illegal for underage teens to drink at parties - the answer might surprise you

Yes, but no

So, the answer to the question ‘Is it actually illegal for underage teens to drink at parties?’ is YES, but NO.

No thank you, I don’t want to have to round up fifty permission notes from parents. I don’t want to be checking those at the door and having the conversations with smartass teens about the dog eating their permission note.

No thank you, I don’t want responsibility for 50 underage minors getting on the turps. You can supervise them however you like, some are going to get nasty drunk. No way do I want to have to deal with that.

100 x No thank you, no thank you, no thank you. It beggars belief that the law is technically on the young teens’ side. Certainly not on the side of the poor parent telling their kid they can’t have drinkers at their party.

Man, you can only pray that other parents are kind. Kind enough to say there is no way they’re giving permission for their kid to drink at some other poor parent’s house!

In the end, I said no to alcohol at my son’s gatho. We kept an eye on things and if kids were drinking (or bonging on, etc), we didn’t see it. I mean, they probably were, but teens are sneaky little buggers.

Feature image by Wil Stewart; Bottle drinker by Danny Lines ; jenga by Manny Moreno 

Written by Bron Maxabella

Bron is the founder of Mumlyfe and is so happy to welcome you here. Bron has been writing in the Australian parenting space as Maxabella for more than seven years and is mum to three mostly happy kids and wife to one mostly happy husband. Mostly happy is a win, right?

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