The verdict is finally out. Yesterday Premier Barry O’Farrell revealed tough new laws to restrict the state’s liquor licensing in response to the wave of media attention on alcohol related assaults in Sydney’s CBD and King’s Cross.
I know where I stand on this issue, but I am hesitant to put my opinion forward for fear of sounding callous and insensitive towards the feelings of families of ‘one punch’ victim’s.
But let me explain.
In the current debate surrounding the issue, we have on the one hand, pressure from the families of innocent victims such as Daniel Christie and Thomas Kelly, calling for tough new laws on alcohol fuelled violence.
And on the other hand, we have those arguing against the moralistic clause and value of essentially punishing the entire general public for the reckless acts of a few violent individuals.
However, as valid as both these views are, I don’t think either argument really articulates the underlying problem in all of this.
Barry O’Farrell yesterday stated:
“[We will do] whatever it takes to get the message through to people across NSW that it is no longer acceptable to go out and drink yourself stupid, take illicit substance, start fights, ‘coward punch’ people or engage in other assaults, thinking you will get away with it. From the point the legislation is passed, those days are over.”
I’m sorry, but when was any of this behaviour acceptable? And how is a new law going to change the attitudes and behaviours of people who think this type of behaviour is acceptable overnight?
At the end of the day, to these people throwing the punches (who as we know are not the sharpest tools in the shed) this law doesn’t send a message to them that “those days are over at all.” Their mindset doesn’t allow them to forget these ingrained values, or lack thereof, to just one day begin thinking that punching an innocent person is cruel and alcohol fuelled violence is a problem in society that needs to be addressed in order to prevent more unintended deaths.
They see it only as a slight inconvenience to their night’s agenda. It translates to them as simply having to get drunk earlier, become violent earlier and punch someone in the face earlier – put bluntly.
In all honesty, I think this law could even potentially backfire as more people are forced out of secured and closely monitored licenced venues at one time and onto the streets – the exact place where all the violence seems to start. It is actually an absurd way of thinking from the government’s point of view, highlighting once again their lack of understanding towards the practicalities of our society.
Is it so hard for them to do more?
These ‘harsh’ new laws are a cop-out, a ‘quick fix’ solution that allow the government to look concerned and proactive, yet essentially failing to effectively address the root of the problem – which would take serious time and money to resurrect into society, not to mention a lot of effort on their behalf.
If the government cares so much about the innocent lives lost, the feelings of the victim’s family and the need to act, maybe they should start by not filing these acts under the label of “alcohol fuelled violence” which takes all the blame away from the individual and instead call them for what they actually are. Murder.
Because blaming such examples of violence on the effects of alcohol is an even bigger cop-out than the new laws themselves.
If the government actually sat down and addressed the cause of this random, mindless violence, they would find that alcohol isn’t the root of all evil. In fact alcohol isn’t really the problem here, nor is binge drinking. The mentality of the people throwing the punches and the so called “roid munchers” who binge drink is.
There are quite literally tens of thousands of people who go out in Sydney every weekend. Who yes, lets be honest are probably all guilty of indulging in a stint of binge drinking after a long, hard week at work. Who probably drink past their limits, say and do stupid things they wouldn’t normally do, had they not had those last three rounds of tequila shots. Yet surprisingly, don’t feel the need to address a complete stranger with their fist and the entire force of their body behind it.
And that gets me to my second point. Let me be very clear about this, these people and these incidents are the minority. So is it really fair or justified to impose these laws on all of Sydney?
Excessive drinking is a foundation of our nation. It always has and always will be our favorite pastime. We can’t use alcohol as a cover up or excuse for these recent violent acts. Yes it may be an extenuating circumstance in some cases, but it is not the cause and therefore not to blame.
What we need to look at is the relationship being highlighted through the statistics. Firstly, an increase in steroid use, from 27 per cent of new injecting drug users in NSW in 2003 to a now alarming 74 per cent.
Secondly, an increase in violence, 91 “coward punches” since 2000. Is it mere coincidence that a heavy increase of the use of steroids, which are medically known to trigger aggression or amplify existing rage, especially when mixed with alcohol or other drugs, correlates to the alarming increase of random one off violent attacks?
We also need to look at the culture of our society and why certain individuals have been led to believe that such aggression and violence will lead to glorification as the tough macho guy. The first thing that comes to mind is social media. Which in essence is simply a platform for narcissism where people can show off their beauty and or power, an ideal that for some beholders equates to an excessive amount of tattoos or a G-Star Raw t-shirt stretched across bulging biceps. Nowadays, everyone is in competition to be the best – be it the prettiest and the skinniest or the biggest, the strongest and the roughest.
Another reason for the glorification of this ideal would be the substantial influence of Sydney’s Bikie Gangs on mainstream culture, with people outside of this group aspiring to also become the tough muscled up guy, with popular reality shows such as Jersey Shore promoting this image further. These ‘men’ in these minority groups have a warped idea of masculinity, and it is fast filtering down to the masses.
Implementing tougher laws on this sort of behavior is again only going to backfire. It is a catch-22 – by cracking down on violence you are making it more ‘badass’ and hence more desirable to the perpetrators to defy. The bigger the crime, the more their tough guy ideal becomes validated. Or the simple logic common to everyone, that if you aren’t allowed to do something you will want to do it even more.
So shouldn’t we look at changing the culture of our society first, so these behaviors don’t occur in the first place and therefore don’t need to be removed? Let’s look at why people feel the pressure to take steroids and methamphetamines, or feel so outraged they need to jump on someone’s head until they bleed to death. Or what violent influences our society is exposing us to through popular culture like television shows, films and video games.
Drug testing people causing trouble in or around licensed premises, placing more security guards throughout the streets of the CBD and King’s Cross, providing more effective transport solutions so people aren’t hanging in the streets waiting for a cab home or at least educating people through schools and the media on the effects of drugs, alcohol and violence are all effective suggestions to the problem.
However this all takes time, careful consideration and precise implementation, and I understand that families who have lost a child, sibling or friend from this violence want immediate action to prevent this injustice happening to another family like theirs.
But where do we draw the line?
Earlier this week, writer Jo Abi called for action to ban all swimming pools nationwide in order to save lives by preventing children from drowning. And there was outrage.
Why don’t we teach children how to swim or teach parents how to properly supervise their children while swimming and how to perform CPR if an accident does happen, instead of implementing a band aid solution like making pools illegal.
Well isn’t this issue based on exactly the same principal as the new ‘one punch’ laws?
Yes these laws might hope to save lives, and that is the most important thing to consider at the end of the day, but why should the law abiding citizens of society be constantly penalised and reprimanded for the actions of a handful of violent perpetrators who belong behind bars?
We need to stop this behaviour from happening in the first place, it’s not just about making the crime harder or more inconvenient to commit. Because it just isn’t fair, and it just isn’t the answer.