Kings Cross after midnight. You are going to die. In fact, you’d be safer in downtown Alleppo. How do you know this? Well, if you spent even a moment reading any edition of the Sydney Morning Herald over the past two months then you’d know we desperately need a ‘Safer Sydney’. The ex-broadsheet has obsessively stalked the issue and pressured the O’Farrell Government into a suite of new legislation and regulations. Caught up in stories of personal grief and righteous outrage, did anyone ever stop to ask what the problem even was to begin with? I would contend that the media and the government missed the point and failed to address the actual problem. So let’s take a look at the problem using evidence rather than sensationalism and promote a ‘Saner Sydney’.
Statistics aren’t my favourite thing. They’re cold and sterile, and just like your friend who never laughs, they don’t lie. BOSCAR, the official New South Welsh crime statistics bureau, issued a media-release to counter what they labelled ‘confusion’ in recent media coverage. Their release highlighted a 5% reduction in non-domestic, alcohol-related violent assaults in the suburb of Kings Cross over the last eight years. Huh? A decrease? Could it be that young guys are getting better at punching each other while drunk? According to research published by the National Center for Biotechnology (USA) regarding alcohol related violence in Australia, between 2000 and 2012 there were 90 deaths caused by one punch assaults. In comparison, in the last two years and one month a staggering 406 people have died on the job according to Safe Work Australia. Not only is there no evidence of a spike in alcohol-related violence, it is actually a statistically insignificant cause of death.
So, what about the alcohol side of this issue? According to the study undertaken by the NCB just over half (49) of the 90 one punch deaths involved an assailant intoxicated by alcohol, while a further 13 involved the use of illicit substances. At the very least one could claim that alcohol is a significant factor involved in one punch assaults. However, if the argument sustained by the media even had a leg to stand on still, then the next statistic will do away with that. Last year the Australian Bureau of Statistics illustrated that total alcohol consumption is down since the mid-00s and over 20% per capita than it was in the early 1970s.
Neither violence nor drinking has spiked recently, so what the hell is this all about!?
Struggling in a rapidly changing information and news environment, the Herald swung out at a soft issue, and many others blindly followed. Of course any unnecessary death of an innocent individual is horrible, but isn’t it just as bad if not worse to die on the job? But that would involve reporting complex industry practises and regulations, discussing the economic bogeyman of the moment – unions –, and flying in the face of the current political climate: ‘Remember boys, we’re open for business!’ It’s much easier to shift papers when you can write about some drunk tradie who belted an innocent kid out on the town. Dragging the families of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie through the mire of a legal misunderstanding doesn’t offer them anything. Not only won’t their assailants face the court under the new legislation, but also by forcing the hand of the O’Farrell Government future unreasonable and unjust outcomes in the courts are assured. Of those 90 previous one punch assault deaths 26 involved entirely sober individuals, how many will suffer in the face of new mandatory sentencing laws?
What we have is not a solution to our problem, but a simplistic solution to a problem we were told we had, neatly packaged in a sixteen-point-plan. There are two separate problems; one is alcohol’s role in Australian society and the other is the inter-relationship between violence and masculinity. We need concerted attention and leadership on these societal flaws, rather than the imposition of deterrence or quasi-Prohibition. The necessary approach is a long term one, based on a socio-legal framework where the goals are fundamental changes to society; that is, a new relationship to alcohol, and a greater degree of understanding and education regarding Australian masculinity. So pervasive are these problems that most of us can freely admit to at least one or the other and I know for certain that I along with many others have a poor attitude towards alcohol. Change can be achieved, however, but it needs to be a greater one than a newspaper competition or an online petition, but in these doldrum days of slacktivism and half-hearted social outrage, what’s the chance of anything happening?