Story and photo Luis Feliu
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has lent his weight and his 1.1 million online followers to back a Byron Youth Service (BYS) initiative to tackle binge drinking among the young.
During a surprise visit to the BYS centre in Byron Bay on Friday to hear about its national project Cringe the Binge and how the federal government could help, Mr Rudd immediately offered to do an on-the-spot video clip to post on YouTube for his legions of fans to promote the campaign that day.
Accompanied by Richmond MP Justine Elliot, Mr Rudd said the project aimed to raise consciousness that binge drinking ‘is a problem and can stuff your brain’.
After watching a video presentation of the project, he agreed with BYS director Di Mahoney that Byron Bay had a unique problem with youth binge drinking due to the tourist town’s ‘saturation’ almost every night with social drinking which reflected on youth who saw it as a normal way of life.
Mr Rudd said that contrasted starkly with his hometown Brisbane where social drinking was confined mostly to a Friday or Saturday night.
Ms Mahoney told him ‘we want to reverse the culture of drinking and make binge drinking uncool.
‘Two million tourists come to Byron each year and many are drinking every night and there’s a party atmosphere and that has a lot of impact on our kids who think it’s normal, it’s a vicious cycle,’ she said.
‘We therefore need to engage young people to get the message out.’
The Cringe the Binge project will involve a website and a national Weekend of Action each November when everyone will be asked to consider their own drinking habits and donate what they would normally spend that weekend on alcohol to the project instead, via the website.
Cringe the Binge will be promoted on TV, radio, print and social media by a stable of youth ‘stars’ including sporting and music identities.
Organisers also aim to hold a national conference in Byron Bay on the subject.
‘We now need seed funding to get it off the ground, we have $35,000 in the kitty already and hope Byron can be the first Cringe the Binge town in Australia, it will benefit the community and business here,’ Ms Mahoney told Mr Rudd.
‘We find that in Byron Bay, youth binge drinking statistics are higher than the rest of NSW, if not Australia, we have 10,000 schoolies here every November and there’s a lot more liquor licences per head of population than in other parts of NSW.
‘Recently, police identified Byron Bay as the fourth most dangerous suburb in NSW for alcohol-fuelled street violence, there were three knifings alone in the past month here, our youth worker Deb Pearse says it’s like a war zone out there some nights.
‘With this campaign, we’d like to build on our award-winning Project U-Turn to reverse the problem of youth binge drinking, and make young people aware how dangerous it is and how it can affect their health, when they’re in that zone they get into fights, drink drive, have accidents or are raped.’
For further info visit www.bys.org.au