NSW alcohol laws are bad for our rights and bad for the law

The recent media attention on the tragic cases of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie has forced NSW to finally introspect and think about violence that we see directed towards young men and women. This is welcome, but unfortunately the response of the politicians in this state has been completely wrong.

 

After many months of resisting pressure, Barry O’Farrell has caved and will bring in a number of laws on the third of February which will lock down premises and introduce mandatory sentencing. Both of these are scary propositions, because of the effect that they will have on our freedoms and our legal system. These laws will likely be ineffective, have unfairly advantaged some companies, will put the wrong people away, and fill up our gaols with first time offenders.

At the Federal election last year, the Future Party ran on a platform of ‘evidence based decision making’, because we want legislation that works, and doesn’t make the problem worse.

People regularly point to the Newcastle lockouts as a success story, but places like Melbourne have repealed their laws because they don’t work. A study published in Drug and Alcohol review states “There is no discernible long-term impact on alcohol-related ED attendances of the lockout intervention in Ballarat. As such, other interventions may be more appropriate to reduce alcohol-related ED attendances.” A 2008 report by KPMG into the lockout scheme in Melbourne found that reports of violence between 12am and 2 am actually increased following the introduction of a 2am lockout. That is, the number of assaults went up in the hours prior to the lockouts. The Labor government at the time decided to dump the scheme.

The proposed lockouts will stop people entering premises at 1:30am, and all alcohol will stop being served by 3 am. Most of the assaults happen prior to these proposed closing times. In fact, Daniel Christie was killed in an attack at 9pm, and Thomas Kelly at 10pm. We are completely unconvinced that lockouts would have prevented either of these attacks from occurring.

The ending of alcohol service at 3am serves effectively as a kickout, with all patrons likely to exit the bar at that time. This will result in a large number of people on the street with nowhere to go, as there is practically no public transport at that time, and taxis are already hard to get at that time due to switchover rules. At this time, assaults are likely to increase. The evidence supporting lockouts is at best mixed.

There are also serious concerns about the unfair application of these laws. The rules will conveniently cover all of the CBD, except of course Cockle Bay where the Star Casino is located and Barangaroo where James Packer’s new casino will be. The rules unfairly advantage these locations, and should be applied uniformly if they are to be applied at all.

Proposed entertainment zone affected by the new laws

Proposed entertainment zone affected by the new laws

The people who these laws are meant to protect are the people who are out on the town. These people aren’t typically looking for violence, but they are looking for a good night out. I’ve heard a lot of parents, doctors and old politicians on the news talk about this. But no one has asked those people on the street and in clubs what they think. These are the people who are most likely to be the victims in such crimes and the ones who are going to be most affected by the laws.

Now I’d like to talk about the criminal system. I disagree with using alcohol as a mitigating factor in cases of assault, because it transfers responsibility from those who commit the crime to the alcohol or drug that they are using. This change is not so bad.

Unfortunately, the government has decided that two identical crimes will have greatly different outcomes based on alcohol consumption. If someone knocks me to the ground and kicks me in the guts, is it any worse that they were drinking than if they were sober if I get the same injuries? Laws like this do not make sense. We have shifted from one extreme to another, which in my opinion is not an improvement.

I’m now more scared to go out at night than ever before. Before I had a one in a million chance of dying when drinking out on the town from being punched. Now, if some boof head starts a fight with me which is much more likely and the police arrive while I’m defending myself, I’m in big trouble. Mandatory sentencing means I go to gaol for 4 years minimum for affray, unless I can prove that I was defending myself which will be very hard with intoxicated witnesses. The judge will have no choice but to put me in gaol for 4 years, even if I have a squeaky clean record, because there will be no judicial discretion.

I’m also really worried about the impact that mandatory sentencing will have on the prison population. Mandatory sentencing will result in many more people going to gaol for long periods. Apart from being incredibly costly and a waste of human life, the imprisonment of more young men might have a negative impact on the recidivism rate, leading to increased violence in the future. People who are imprisoned will spend years socialising with other criminals, adjusting to a culture of increased violence inside the gaol and losing social and professional contact with normal society.

A good response is preventative response. A good response would be public awareness campaigns about the dangers of fighting. A good response would be doing research into the backgrounds and motivations of those behind these attacks. A good response would be to create public awareness about all kinds of violence. A good response would be to do what the government has been doing and ensuring that premises obey their Responsible Service of Alcohol requirements. A good response would be to address transport home late at night.

The scariest thing about this is that Barry O’Farrell from the Liberals and John Robertson from Labor will pat themselves on their back and say how they fixed this problem, without having done a thing. The Labor Party and the Liberal party are united in delivering knee-jerk, draconian, unfair and ineffective policy. We need opposition to these bad laws, and it needs to come from someone other than the alcohol lobby.

This is not going to be the most important issue of the next state election, but this change is representative of the options that we have currently in our current politicians. The legislation will be damaging to our freedom, and damaging to our legal system. So please, share this with all your friends online.