A WA public health expert says a national trial of a legal drinking age of 21 could help show whether it reduces harm such as drunken behaviour and is acceptable to the community.
Curtin University professor of health policy Mike Daube gave guarded support yesterday to a call by Australian of the Year Ita Buttrose to have such a trial, arguing it was a debate that Australia needed to have.
Earlier this week, Ms Buttrose called for a shift in attitudes to alcohol, including voluntarily restricting it to meal times and considering a legal drinking age of 21.
She said Australia should have a trial to see if there were any benefits and examine what happened in other countries such as the US where the legal drinking age in some States was 21.
The issue of lifting Australia's drinking age from 18 has been regularly raised by health experts, with Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton calling for it to be raised to 25.
Professor Daube, who chairs the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Young People, said a three-year national trial of a drinking age of 21, that was properly evaluated, was worth considering.
"The debate is well worth having, and a trial might be a good option, but in the meantime we should get on with the measures we know work and for which there is strong public support such as protecting young people from inappropriate sales and promotion of alcohol," he said.National Drug Research Institute expert Steve Allsop said while there was strong evidence that raising the drinking age to 21 reduced alcohol-related problems in young people, it was yet to find community support.