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The committee’s ‘ground-breaking’ October 1977 report exposed for the first time the ‘epidemic proportions’ of alcohol and tobacco abuse in Australia. Excessive alcohol consumption was found to significantly increase divorce, hospitalisation, crime, road crash and death rates. Smoking caused up to 10 per cent of all deaths—as great a killer as ‘the great epidemic diseases of the past’.

Described in 2017 as the ‘ancestral document to today’s National Drug Strategy’, the report unanimously endorsed a comprehensive strategy for controlling and reducing the supply of drugs. Two dissenting reports were made in relation to recommendations to decriminalise cannabis.

While most of the committee’s 84 recommendations proved too radical for the government, some, such as random breath testing, were implemented with great success. Significant progress has been made on drink driving, teenage smoking, banning tobacco advertising, prescription painkiller availability, treatment and rehabilitation legislation, drug education and health promotion.

The committee’s view of drug addiction as an illness rather than a crime ‘laid the foundations’ for the development of Australia’s first national drug strategy in 1985.

Peter Baume pictured holding his report. Image courtesy of Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE)

Commemorating the 40th anniversary of Baume’s report in 2017, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) released a study pronouncing it both ‘progressive and prescient’.

The study, entitled Australia, an intoxicated society – 40 years on from the Baume Report, analysed the extent of progress made against the report’s 37 alcohol-related recommendations.

It found that despite substantive progress on drink driving, most of the report’s recommendations—particularly those relating to the price, promotion and availability of alcohol—remain relevant today.

Senator Peter Baume, ca1991, Australian Overseas Information Service

Senator Peter Baume chaired the Standing Committee on Social Welfare from 1976 to 1980. A physician before entering politics, Baume was one of the Senate’s most powerful health and welfare reformers during this period.

The idea that alcohol and tobacco were the two greatest causes of personal and societal damage in Australia was unheard of before Baume’s landmark report. Not wanting his report’s findings dismissed as the product of a puritanical ‘wowser mentality’, Baume was quick to assure the Senate during his tabling speech that the committee’s members were themselves drinkers and smokers who had based their views on incontrovertible evidence.

In a later interview, Baume described the inquiry as ‘an immense learning experience’ for all committee members.

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Thomas Joseph Tehan, committee member 1976-78, Interview with Tony Hannan on his dissenting report (part 1 of 2), 1988

National Library of Australia, ORAL TRC 4900/56, session 5, 00:04:14-00:08:30.
Full interview available at

Thomas Joseph Tehan, committee member 1976-78, Interview with Tony Hannan on his dissenting report (part 2 of 2), 1988

National Library of Australia, TRC 4900/56, session 5, 00:08:30-00:13:30.
Full interview available at