The O’Farrell Government has finally responded to the deafening community concern over alcohol-fuelled violence, announcing proposed new laws regarding fatal ‘one-punch’ assaults where drug or alcohol use is a factor.
The mandatory minimum penalty will be set at eight years of gaol time, with a maximum sentence of twenty-five years. Further, compulsory lockouts in the CBD will force venues to stop trading at 3am.
Let me say, for the record, that I in no way condone or defend the actions of those who take violent action against innocent bystanders or revellers, especially those who attack anyone in such a cowardly manner that the victim never has an opportunity to defend themselves.
But the O’Farrell Government simply has no idea.
By changing prison sentences we assume a level of critical thought that is, quite frankly, beyond an individual who would likely struggle to count the bananas in their own enclosure. Shaun McNeil, accused murderer of Daniel Christie, seems to lack the grey matter at the best of times (let alone when he’s drunk) to reason with himself that maybe, perhaps, possibly, it’s a somewhat bad idea to go and hit someone as hard as you can for reasons I honestly can’t fathom.
The fact that he now may serve a longer prison sentence probably doesn’t occur to an alcohol-affected person like that in the wee small hours of the morning.
These reforms will get people like McNeil off the street for longer, sure, and that’s not such a bad thing, although it does fly in the face of my personal belief that penal systems should be about reform rather than punishment (a discussion for another time). However, such reforms are not a preventative measure and won’t save future victims of other aggressive gym-junkies.
On top of the sentencing changes, the O’Farrell government has gone with the mind-boggling idea of enforcing 3am lock-outs.
Yes, 3am – the same time taxis have their changeover, hence the time when there are fewest cabs in the city.
How on earth does it combat alcohol-fuelled violence when we strand hundreds of alcohol-affected people on the street at the same time?!
It’s the drinking culture of Sydney that needs to change, and it’s the kind of change that can only come about at a grassroots level and with the participation of an industry that has, until now, been held accountable in all the wrong ways.
Sydney vilifies its drinkers. We funnel them into central holding areas – George St, Kings Cross, the Rocks – and we create a high-pressure atmosphere where acts of aggression grow exponentially.
We deny drinkers access to reasonable prices and services, so that they’re encouraged to get drunk at home before even getting to a venue. Once they’re inside a venue their blood alcohol continues to rise, and while they may not have been drunk at the door, they certainly are half an hour later.
We force drinkers to contend with aggravating security staff. I understand that they have an extremely difficult job to do, I don’t envy them, and to expect them to assess each situation on its own merit is hardly plausible. But Sydney bouncers seem, on the most part, to be antagonising, at least from the evidence on hand. They back-talk to patrons, leer at women and seem to turn venues into their own private parties. When a young bloke is denied entry, he is given little more than a cursory shake of the head and a big hand push aside – and that’s if they’re lucky.
The fact is, a violent drinking culture is precisely that: a culture. Culture is best changed by a change in attitudes and values, rather than legal reform.
Education is the best offence.
Instead of allowing George St to become a hotspot for drinkers, so that by 10 o’clock in the evening everyone who isn’t off the streets is considered a target, change the atmosphere. Encourage restaurants and cafes to stay open later. It’s a model with proven success in Europe, and one supported by Clover Moore. Create a more relaxed, family-friendly vibe, and drinkers will behave or move on if the vibe doesn’t suite them.
It will take time, but it’s a long-term solution.
Instead of encouraging drinkers to get as drunk as they can at home, regulate the hospitality industry so that liquor prices aren’t prohibitively inflated in certain venues. Encourage supervised, moderated drinking.
Instead of training security staff to get away with the maximum amount of antagonism without incurring legal ramifications, train them to be ‘disagreement moderators’. Encourage and skill them up in the use of effective communication techniques, with violence always being a last priority.
And if it’s not too much to ask, encourage them to use a pinch of human decency and talk to patrons with a polite and respectful tone that any one of us would use with another on the street.
The fact is, individuals like Shaun McNeil and Kieren Loveridge (the assailant of Thomas Kelly) were wandering the streets of Sydney in an ultra-aggressive mood because they’d been vilified at every turn.
While that in no way excuses their behaviour, it does show us that there are a raft of more preventative measures to be taken to help curb alcohol-fuelled violence than those currently suggested by the NSW government.