COMMENT: The O’Farrell Government’s raft of proposed laws to curb alcohol-fuelled violence is not perfect but its critics in the liquor industry and the law have offered nothing better to address a problem which is out of control in some metropolitan areas and on the rise in the country.
Mandatory minimum sentences, curfews on entry and a 3am end to alcohol sales in certain inner Sydney venues will go some way to changing the worst behaviour, but it will take years to turn around a binge drinking culture which is largely the product of marketing alcohol.
Licensees who say they can’t be held responsible for pre-loading - the drinks consumed earlier at home - or the problems created by drunks who are turned away at the door, ignore the obvious fact that if not them, then a colleague in their neighbourhood is happily serving drinks to people who are already intoxicated.
Though difficult and unpopular to enforce, the police should be putting more resources into enforcing the responsible service of alcohol inside licenced premises.
What we are currently seeing is authorities reacting to drunken violence by putting a venue on the violent hotel list and banning the use of glass or the sale of shots when they should be going after venues who serve drunk patrons.
We constantly read about drunken brawls in Kings Cross, king hits, coward punches and life-ending injuries but when did we last read about a licensee being fined, permanently shut down or jailed for serving a patron who was clearly drunk?
Among the legal fraternity removing a magistrate’s discretion is never popular. Lawyers and magistrates see the subtle differences in the circumstances of an offence or an offender’s background. What the public has not seen is the courts consistently using their discretion to hand out sentences at the toughest end of the range available.
The premier’s determination to turn excessive alcohol consumption from a mitigating factor in violence to an aggravating factor is a first step in changing our drinking culture.