Turning his life around ... Joel Smeaton and his son, Dane. Photo: Quentin Jones
Joel Smeaton is a devoted father to seven-year-old Dane, but sometimes he wonders how life got so good. In the grips of alcohol addiction six years ago, Mr Smeaton was in danger of losing Dane, who he now has sole custody of. ''My addiction to alcohol meant I was faced with going to prison at a time when I had a baby at home,'' Mr Smeaton said.
Mr Smeaton spent a year in rehab and did everything he could to follow the program. He has not had a drink in nearly six years, completed a diploma of community health at TAFE and is now an Aboriginal support worker.
''There are moments when I wonder how I got here, because my life before was a disaster,'' he said. ''I'm so glad I got help, because being a good parent is an awesome feeling.''
Mr Smeaton said parents who thought excessive alcohol consumption did not harm their children ''were kidding themselves'', with Roy Morgan research released today finding 22 per cent of people know children they believe are not being cared for because of someone else's alcohol abuse.
More than 2.5 million people said alcohol had caused problems with their immediate or extended family members over the past year, while nearly 3 million people said they knew children who may be unsafe because of alcohol abuse.
But the figures, released by the Salvation Army as part of Alcohol Awareness Week, were not surprising, said a professor of health policy, Mike Daube.
''It is all too consistent with a wide range of evidence showing that the harms of alcohol are much broader than many people would like to think,'' said Professor Daube, who is the director of Curtin University's public health advocacy institute in WA.
Action from the federal and state governments was needed, he said, including alcohol taxation, tighter advertising controls and stricter liquor licensing. He said politicians were not serious about tackling excessive alcohol consumption despite being aware of its harm.
But it was important not to focus on just community behaviour, said Richard Mattick, from the national drug and alcohol research centre at the University of NSW.
He said governments needed to impose tougher restrictions on the alcohol industry.