32

28 02 2014

Meet Marika Ninness.

Marika died in John Hunter Hospital on Saturday, 21 December 2013, from injuries sustained after she was allegedly king hit and allegedly knocked to the ground outside the George Tavern near Stockland Green Hills shopping centre in East Maitland on 7 December 2013.  Marika’s husband & sister held her hand as she died, 80 hours after life support was withdrawn.  Marika’s funeral was attended by more than 350 mourners.

Marika’s boyfriend, Ross Albert Merrick was arrested at the scene and charged with causing grievous bodily harm by an unlawful act, recklessly causing grievous bodily harm and causing grievous bodily harm with intent.  A statement of facts tendered in court accused Merrick of elbowing Marika to the head during an argument before midnight. He was subsequently accused of punching her and was bailed at a hearing on 13 December 2013.  The charges were upgrade to murder on 22 December 2013.  Merrick was remanded in custody until 23 December, when he was granted bail unopposed by the prosecution.  Merrick missed a scheduled court appearance on 12 February due to ‘miscommunication’ between the defence, prosecution & court.  That is the last report I’ve been able to find on Merrick’s case online.  Apologies to the Hunter region media if they reported on the matter (the next hearing was set for 19 February), but it looks as though the case is not newsworthy enough after just three months.  Marika Ninness died just 10 days before 18-year-old Daniel Christie was attacked in King’s Cross, but barring five paragraphs on 22 December, her case wasn’t reported by the Sydney Morning Herald (she didn’t even rate a mention in the Daily Telegraph).  I understand that Sydney news editors might deem the death of a 35-year-old woman from a Hunter Valley town as of little interest to their readers, but that didn’t stop the Herald using her beautiful face in a gallery of 15 victims of street violence attached to this article calling for a political response to an ‘epidemic of street violence’ after Daniel Christie’s death.  The O’Farrell government’s ‘one punch’ legislation, drafted on the back of a fag packet after a media campaign focused on the deaths of two Sydney teenagers,  is inner city-centric (barring the statewide mandatory band of off-license alcohol sales after 10pm) & will do nothing to prevent the ‘epidemic’ from affecting women, men and children in suburban, regional and country areas.  Of the 15 people the Herald refers to as victims of ‘king hit punches’, two (Thomas Kelly & Daniel Christie) lost their lives within the O’Farrell government’s ‘CBD Precinct’.  Six of those pictured died in Victoria; one in Queensland. Of the NSW victims, two died in Maitland (including Marika Ninness); one in Windsor; one in Woolooware in Sydney’s south; one at Kingscliff, near Tweed Heads; one in Coffs Harbour and one in Griffith:

  • Christopher Leicester died in Woolooware, near Cronulla in 2007 after he was punched, knocked to the ground &  kicked in the head repeatedly by three youths who thought he had insulted them. They were found guilty of manslaughter in 2009.
  • Connan McLeod died after he was punched by Michael Ryan in the car park of Windsor KFC in May, 2011. Both men were heavily intoxicated. Mr Ryan was acquitted of manslaughter in 2012, the jury deeming the punch self-defence. Mr McLeod and his brother-in-law (who, the court heard, has a long history of violence) had been involved in a scuffle inside a pub. A few minutes’ later, Mr McLeod chased Mr Ryan through a shopping mall, shouting, ‘I am going to kill you’. Mr Ryan punched Mr McLeod once, & pushed him away. Mr McLeod lost his balance and fell.
  • Scott Snodgrass died after an altercation with a 20-year-old man at a taxi rank in Coffs Harbour in May 2013. The man was questioned by police and released without charge & the matter remains under investigation.
  • 50 year old Kelvin Kane died at Kingscliff, near Tweed Heads. His alleged killer, Craig Field, has been charged with murder, with the case adjourned until 7 March.
  • Jamie Purdon died after he & his friends were chased by a 17-year-old & 15-year-old at Maitland Show. The 17-year-old’s custodial sentence was reduced to periodic detention for giving evidence against the 15-year-old, whose conviction for manslaughter was overturned as a miscarriage of justice by the Court of Criminal Appeal (he awaits a re-trial).  The teenager who punched Mr Purdon was subsequently charged with assaulting another man a year later.
  • Andrew Farrugia‘s teenage killers were convicted of manslaughter.  It is a monument to the Sydney Morning Herald that the dreadful, racist ranting of columnist Paul Sheehan was picked up by the ‘white nationalists’ at Stormfront. Really, what a feather in your cap.

These are stories of Australian men and boys – at homes, in parks, at restaurants, at parties, at pubs and clubs.  Verbally & emotionally abusing, harassing, stalking and physically attacking people.  Kicking them, stomping on them while they’re on the ground. Assaulting strangers, acquaintances, friends, and at least once a week, killing female partners.  It’s symptomatic of a pervasive culture of impunity, a word Westerners are more comfortable assigning to African warlords.  People who think that it is OK to do as they see fit, whether it’s getting into a fight with a stranger or verbally degrading the person they ‘love’.  They aren’t cowards. ‘Coward’ implies they lack the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.  Instead, they rely on a cowardly society which is uncomfortable with intervening in ‘unpleasantness’.  We fail to stand up & say, ‘hey, you: if you want to behave like that, you’re not welcome here.  You do not meet the standard we as a society expect of you’.  We set the ‘what’s acceptable’ bar so low, & make it pointless by looking away when it’s breached. As Sydney city’s top cop, Commander Mark Murdoch told the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘you could close every pub in Sydney at midnight and have a million cops on the street, but it won’t do anything when people believe they can behave in that fashion and get away with it’.

People convicted under the new NSW government ‘one-punch’ laws may not ‘get away with it’ thanks to mandatory minimum sentences, but it is my view that mandatory minimums will prove as useful in preventing assaults as antibiotics are in killing a virus.  Keeping people in prison for a set period of time, with no prospect of leniency, mitigation or change removes any incentive to learn and practice good behaviours.  As I wrote previously, imposing mandatory minimums as a deterrent is based on the assumption that people are rational actors when they commit a crime.  Randomly assaulting a person on the street is right up there with the least rational crimes. In what fresh hell could Wally Hung, who killed Scott Parnell be deemed ‘rational’? Both men were drunk at a 21st birthday party at Moreton Bay’s Bribie Island Rugby League Football Club. Parnell had previously hit Hung’s friend. While on bail for manslaughter, Hung delivered another single-punch assault while drunk. Hung was convicted of manslaughter in the Parnell case & assault occasioning bodily harm in the second case. Wally Hung is a violent man from the Planet Stupid or Ignorant. What he is not is ‘rational’, nor are the men & boys who killed the other people named in this article.  If charged & convicted under the new mandatory minimum laws, they would have been locked up for longer periods, but would their behaviour have changed?  Would a 15-year-old sentenced to eight years leave adult prison in his early 20s a reformed character? As Richard Ackland notes in The Age, there are no studies to assess the effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences as a deterrent to crime in Australia, but US Attorney General Eric Holder (with a wealth of data & research available to him), last year issued a memo urging prosecutors not to lay charges that would trigger mandatory minimums for certain non-violent drug offences.

Worse, we have these bright & shiny punitive measures while services which attempt to address the causes of violence, drug & alcohol abuse are being cut back, or are thin on the ground (NB: I’ve attempted to source this information as widely as possible, if any readers know of preventative or educational strategies & services specifically targeting alcohol, please let me know, I will publish an update).  According to NSW Health’s Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Office (MHDAO), the NSW Government Drug and Alcohol Budget for the 2013/14 financial year is $170 million, with more than $120 million allocated to Local Health Districts to provide frontline drug and alcohol services, almost all focused on treatment. The rest is farmed out to non-government organisations and other agencies to provide:

  • residential rehabilitation services;
  • education and prevention services; and
  • encouragement to pharmacists to engage with the pharmacotherapy program

NSW Health’s Your Room project produces a fact sheet on alcohol abuse and the ‘Your Guide’ series on dealing with alcohol & how to have a good night out, available here.  Programmes delivered through Life Education NSW cost $20 per student. Receives $1.8 million NSW Government funding (approximately $6 per student); The Department of Education & Communities (DEC) chips in $4 through ‘fundraising and other initiatives’, leaving parents to pick up the rest of the tab. For some people, $10 for a non-compulsory school activity is unaffordable; for many, it’s a disincentive.

Department of Education & Communities’ Drug Education Unit: closed. The Australia Drug Law Reform Foundation’s submission expressed reservations as to whether the Unit’s role had been effectively replaced:

“The highly regarded NSW Alcohol and Drug Education Programme (in the Education Department) has recently been closed. The work on alcohol previously undertaken by this department is now being undertaken by Drinkwise, an organisation which is, in effect, a branch of the alcohol beverage industry.”

DEC responded to the Foundation’s concerns with bureaucratese: the Unit hadn’t closed, it had been recalibrated. Screw that: a dedicated unit established & funded has been abolished, its work now delivered as part of the Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) curriculum. Individual teachers decide how much time is spent on alcohol & drug education. Over years 7 – 10, students undertake 300 hours of PDHPE, while in years 11 and 12, Government school students must participate in the Crossroads program for 25 hours.

According to its website, Drinkwise is funded by the following companies:

  • Accolade Wines Australia Ltd
  • Aldi Stores
  • Bacardi Lion Pty Ltd
  • Beam Global Australia Pty Ltd
  • Brown-Forman Australia Pty Ltd
  • Coles Group Ltd
  • Coopers Brewery Ltd
  • Diageo Australia Ltd
  • Carlton & United Breweries
  • Lion (Lion-Beer, Spirits & Wine Pty Ltd)
  • Moet Hennessy Australia & New Zealand Pty Ltd
  • Premium Wine Brands Pty Ltd
  • Suntory Australia Pty Ltd
  • Treasury Wine Estates Australia Ltd
  • Woolworths Ltd

In 2006 the Howard Government contributed $5 million over 4 years. In 2012 the Gillard Government contributed $600,000 for point of sale educational material to highlight the message ‘it is safest not to drink while pregnant’.  Terrific. We have an ‘epidemic of alcohol-fuelled street violence’ and the body largely entrusted to deliver a preventative strategy is funded by grog merchants and a piss-ant government handout. Six of the 13-member Drinkwise board represent the alcohol industry.

On 31 January 2013, the University of NSW’s National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre announced a new school-based drug & alcohol study of 3,000 Victorian & NSW Year 8 students, one of several projects conducted by a new $2.5 million National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) in Mental Health and Substance Use, launched by then federal Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek and federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler. Given the Abbott government’s approach to science, research and y’know, facts, we’ll see how long that lasts, and what, if anything, is done with the baseline data.

As for the ‘Newcastle Solution’ and the drop in assaults in non-domestic settings in the ‘CBD entertainment zone’, much is made of the non-displacement of violence, i.e. that drunks aren’t strolling off to venues with close proximity to the lock-out area to continue drinking.  This straw man argument fails to give proportionate weight to the fact that venues in neighbouring suburbs are in largely residential areas & close before the lockouts enforced under the ‘Newcastle Solution’ take effect.  In this eight-page report by researchers from the University of Newcastle & the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics & Research, only one paragraph acknowledges this as a factor in the non-displacement argument.  Ugly exceptions to the ‘Newcastle Solution’, such as the near fatal assault of 23 year-old Kelsey Johnston on the night Marika Ninness died, are swept under the carpet by its advocates.  Kelsey suffered bleeding on the brain from an alleged single-punch attack outside the Prince of Wales Hotel at Merewether.  Merewether is a few minutes away from the Hamilton end of the lockout zone.  The Prince of Wales closes at midnight.

On International Women’s Day, and the first real test of the new arrangements in inner-city Sydney, I remember Marika Ninness.  While she died outside her home, her alleged killer was her partner.  I remember that among the backflips Barry O’Farrell has performed on mandatory minimums was dumping them for sexual assaults.  I remember that the deaths of 32 women in NSW in domestic violence situations last year sparked… a framework & a task force.  If the epidemic of violence against women in NSW incited a response equal to the moral panic over street violence, we’d remember those 32 names – but it doesn’t, & we don’t.

UPDATE:  Marika’s sister, Charnie Braz, contacted me this week.  Merrick’s next court appearance is scheduled for 9 April 2014.  In Charnie’s words, ‘the best thing you can do for us is promote fair and responsible reporting of violence against women’.  This report by Nick Ralston, Amy Corderoy & Inga Ting in today’s SMH is a step in the right direction. I hope the editors feel their work is worthy of a broader campaign – & at least devote the same coverage to Merrick’s trial as it will Shaun McNeil’s (the man charged with murder over the death of Daniel Christie).

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Sucker punched

21 01 2014

Well played, dickheads.

The new offence & mandatory minimum sentence for so-called ‘one-punch’ assaults occasioning death, announced today by the O’Farrell Government is poor public policy on several counts. I don’t have time to pretty this up, I want to put a few thoughts out there & some links. You can chew my argument up & spit it out, but bring your A game. I worked for a government which made similarly populist decisions & they sucked arse. This one bites because it’s not only bad policy, it’s bad politics.

1/. What has the NSW Government done?

See the fact sheet released by the government here. In addition to the new ‘one punch’ offence, the government will:

  • increase maximum sentences by two years and introduced mandatory minimum sentences for serious assaults committed under the influence of drugs and alcohol;
  • create a new ‘CBD precinct’ stretching from Kings Cross to Cockle Bay, The Rocks to Haymarket and Darlinghurst which will be subject to 1.30am lockouts and no alcohol sales after 3am;
  • not approve new liquor licenses for pubs and clubs within the precinct;
  • run free buses from Kings Cross to the city every 10 minutes;
  • give police the power to ban ‘troublemakers’ from the precinct for up to 48 hours and the Police Commissioner the power to ban persons from the precinct for extended periods of time;
  • introduce a periodic ‘risk-based’ licensing system, based on the Victorian model (higher fees based on poor compliance);
  • change closing times for liquor stores to 10pm Statewide;
  • increase on-the-spot fines for anti-social behaviour;
  • toughen penalties for the possession of steroids;
  • suspend online Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certification until changes are made to protect their integrity;
  • continue covert police surveillance to prevent sales of alcohol to minors; and
  • run a social media and advertising campaign.

2/. Why has the O’Farrell government acted?

The new ‘one punch’ offence is a reaction to a handful of high-profile cases and a sustained campaign by both the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph. The moral hazards or unintended consequences this moralising presents will come back and bite us all on the bum. You’ve got 150,000 signatures on a petition? I reckon I could do a whip count and match it with people who think this is at best unhelpful, creates different classes of victims of crime and could make a situation inflated by the media worse. When the State Government body which collects crime statistics tells you last week that the facts do not bear out the media campaign, you know you’re on a loser. Here is the latest NSW quarterly crime report. Violent crime is falling or stable in the City of Sydney. Crimes, as reported to police and passed to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, but no, let’s go and set our hair on fire over a catch phrase.

One Australian woman a week is killed by a current or former partner. ONE A WEEK, but you’re most likely to read about it if the Governor-General speaks about it, or the victim is a beautiful young woman. I live for the day either of these rags passionately advocates for a ‘safer Sydney’ for women and children murdered by their partners. White Ribbon Day is a fantastic initiative, but it’s not in the same league as the ‘one punch’ mission the newspapers went on. Why choose to crusade over the tragic deaths of a few young men when BOCSAR research indicates domestic violence is grossly under reported. If Dr Don Weatherburn & his team is right, you could look at doubling the recorded number of assaults in a domestic setting. There were 27,000 in the 12 months to September 2013.

  • The recorded number of assaults in the domestic setting in the City of Sydney LGA in the year ending September 2013? 905
  • The recorded number of assaults in the domestic setting in the City of Sydney LGA in the year ending September 2012? 874

(I.E. UP)

  • The recorded number of non-domestic related assaults in the City of Sydney LGA in the year ending September 2013? 3583
  • The recorded number of non-domestic related assaults in the City of Sydney LGA in the year ending September 2012? 3737

(I.E. DOWN)

This data is published quarterly by BOCSAR. It is freely available & I strongly encourage you to refer to it whenever you read about what constitutes or provides for ‘a scared community with the succour and support it needs’. Also, listen to the Governor-General’s second Boyer Lecture in full. If her words on the Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) and its Australian context doesn’t blow your socks off, I don’t know what will. How dearly I will miss Her Excellency. I’m not big on titles, but Quentin Bryce deserves that one.

3/. Why am I angry?

  • I am terribly sorry for the loss of these young men’s lives. The grief of their families and friends … I’ve never known it. I don’t question the push for sentencing reviews. A life lost in circumstances such as Thomas Kelly’s is worth more than the four-year sentence handed down to the man who punched him. I just don’t believe that a new offence needs to be created, or that one life ended at the hands of a violent drunk is worth more or less than another’s. A person who is stabbed to death is not any more of less dead than a ‘one punch’ victim. The person who stabbed them might be up for murder, found guilty, be sentenced to life and get a non-parole period of 10 years. Excellent. Reverse the situation. The 25 year old man charged with murder following the death of Daniel Christie on 11 January 2014 faces life imprisonment if the Crown proves his intent was to kill Mr Christie, or that he acted with reckless indifference to human life. If the charge of murder is proven, it serves as a precedent for charges to be laid in future cases. That’s a life sentence, which carries a standard non-parole period of 25 years. The maximum sentence under the new offence (if the offender is intoxicated by drugs or alcohol) is 25 years. The call to ‘get tough on thugs’ could result in a plea bargain for the lesser offence, and wind up before a judiciary chafing at the bit to tell the executive branch of government exactly what they think of mandatory minimums by handing out custodial sentences of 10-12 years. Well played.
  • Voluntary intoxication will be removed as a mitigating factor in hearing such cases, but the ‘vulnerability’ of the victim (such as age) is still taken into account as an aggravating factor. What happens if an 18-year-old man (they’re not ‘boys’, so let’s stop with that right now) physically attempts to restrain you to further unwanted sexual advances? Say the man is pissed out of his brain and falls like a sack of spuds if, in desperation, you hit them with an open backhander? Is it a WFA title bout? What constitutes ‘one punch’? What happens if two people each throw one punch, and only one connects, or as Ed Butler writes today, a person reacts to seeing a male or female friend being threatened or assaulted, lands one punch on the instigator, who then falls and dies? How do you treat the death of someone after a ‘brawl’, such as Daniel Cassai? Does anyone deserve a mandatory minimum of eight years’ jail because they’ve clocked someone on the back of the head in an effort to stop a rape? Removing judicial discretion – the idea that judges and magistrates have the wisdom, experience and knowledge of the law to give proper consideration to all evidence presented in court – is just a nonsense; as is the implication that a jury of our peers can’t understand or execute their role, one of the most important in our society. It’s a bloody insult to our collective intelligence. In the United States,the introduction of mandatory minimums for dealing in crack cocaine – but not powder cocaine resulted in one thing: disproportionate incarceration rates among young men from minority and lower socio-economic backgrounds. It’s the same drug, just presented in a different form. This is what I mean when I talk about creating classes of victims. Are the Christie and Cassai cases so different? All people who die during, or following a violent assault should be treated with the same dignity.
  • Mandatory minimum sentencing laws do not work, here or abroad. As Declan Roche wrote in a 1999 Australian Institute of Criminology report;
  1. they are not a general deterrent to crime – deterrence implies that people are rational actors when considering committing a crime when much crime (especially crimes such as ‘one punch’ assaults’) is impulsive and involves limited deliberation;
  2. they are not cost-effective – in fact, they are the opposite of a cost-effective solution to fighting crime. Consider the increased costs in the court system as more defendants contest charges to try to avoid the mandatory penalty that follows conviction, where they otherwise may have entered a plea of guilty; cost of housing large numbers of offenders imprisoned under mandatory sentencing laws. In Australia it is estimated that it costs up to $60,000 to keep a prisoner imprisoned for a year and approximately $200,000 to build a new cell;
  3. they do not promote consistency in sentencing – statutory definition of offences is inherently imprecise. Very unequal offenders can receive the same sentence when convicted under mandatory sentencing. Secondly, mandatory sentences may encourage judges to circumvent the mandatory penalties imposed by legislation. Judges and juries may “nullify” laws or penalties that seem to them unjust. Thirdly, rather than eliminating discretion it simply displaces it to other parts of the criminal justice system, most notably, prosecutors. Discretion is unavoidable in the criminal justice system. When that discretion is left in the hands of judges they are in a position to attempt to achieve consistency by taking into account all the relevant circumstances of the offence. Moreover, judges’ decisions are publicly accountable through their visibility, which provides some safeguards against inconsistency. By contrast, displacing that power & putting it in the hands of prosecutors means that discretion is being exercised in a less considered, and certainly less accountable way.
  • The new ‘CBD precinct’ just pushes the ‘problem’ elsewhere. What about Bondi, Coogee, Manly – all ‘notorious’ trouble spots for ‘alcohol-fuelled’ violence. I live two blocks outside the Darlinghurst suburb boundary, near other pubs in Surry Hills. Are those pubs going to adhere to the 1.30am lockouts because they want to be good neighbours? YA THINK? I look forward to the locked out masses trying to get into pubs 500 metres down the road. Fun times.
  • NEW ANGER: You know loses out here? The large pubs & clubs on Oxford Street, safe places for LGBTQI people, all with 5am licences. Odds on an upsurge in gay bashings because people who choose to switch nightclubs themselves are locked-out after standing in a queue for 30min & are vulnerable to homophobic fucks? THAT. THAT RIGHT THERE IS AN UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE.
  • Here comes another ring stinger:  small bars (yay, civility and $20 cocktails in Mason jars); restaurants and ‘tourist accommodation establishments’ are exempt from the CBD precinct rules on lockouts and new liquor licence applications. Excellent. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Think hard. It lets James Packer’s Barangaroo casino development go ahead. No worries.
  • The ‘bans’ on ‘troublemakers’? WHAT THE ACTUAL EFF? ‘Hey, pissed up suit! Don’t bother rolling up to the office after you’ve been arrested?’ How is this even going to work?
  • 10pm closing times for bottle-os? Get fucked. Just fuck right off. How many off-licences are open after 10pm? I know of two. The others are hotels which sell takeaways during opening hours. ‘Pre-loading’ doesn’t begin at 9pm. If you’ve ever caught a train from Newcastle to, or from Sydney on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll see it in full flight.
  • WARNING: OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE – call a cunt a cunt and there’s a good chance some cunt will hand you a cunning $500 fine because that cunt can;
  • The ‘roid angle is interesting for singling out the stereotypical ‘one punch’ deliverer – a pumped up mid-20s bloke trained in mixed martial arts. What about the ‘one punch’ puncher who really is a coward & doesn’t have the self-discipline the vast majority of people who are trained in any martial art or boxing possess?
  • OH FINALLY SOMEONE HAS REALISED THAT ONLINE RSA TESTS ARE RORTED AND EVEN WHEN PEOPLE HAVE RSA CERTIFICATES THEY KEEP SERVING ALCOHOL BECAUSE MONEY.
  • Covert surveillance – I think this means young cops hanging out at Liquorland but I’m not entirely sure.
  • Bring forth the ad blitz. If it’s one thing Australia does well, it’s PSAs (no sarcasm; we really are very good at creating and heeding them. I just wish they’d run ‘DON’T HIT OR RAPE PEOPLE EVER’ on loop.

I know police are sick of seeing punch ons, but pro-tip from an inner-Sydney resident: I have seen police sending eight to 10 officers into nightclubs with sniffer dogs, or squad cars and paddy wagons parked outside one or two pubs, 20-30 police milling about, then walked 250 metres to my street and found a group of young blokes kicking a homeless person, or a man pushing a woman around. I’ve stepped in, because I always think, ‘what if that was me’? I’ve seen a bouncer drag a young kid from a club around into a lane way & beat the shit out of him & was too scared to intervene. I shouted at him & went into the club to tell the manager; the bouncer came in & dragged me off the premises. The manager told me to fuck off. I called the police, when they arrived they said there was no point taking the matter further because I’d had wine over dinner & the kid was a meth-addicted rent boy. I’ve seen a young woman thrown into a cab by two bouncers. When people who saw what happened tried to give the young cops a different story, they became belligerent. I’ve seen a bouncer hit a bloke, then lie about it to the cops, backed up by eight other bouncers. There is a plethora of existing law under the Crimes Act 1900 for NSW Police to enforce. There are City of Sydney bans on public drinking – in 12 years living here, I’m yet to see the bans in action. The laws & by-laws exist. They just aren’t enforced.

Finally (!) … as well as making no sense from a public policy perspective, it’s just really poor politics. I would be tempted to vote Liberal if Barry O’Farrell had stood up to the papers and their combined circulation of the population of Elizabeth Bay and led. Instead, the Premier did as he has done from 25 March 2011. He squibbed it. Small target politics is O’Farrell’s comfort zone. With the ALP unlikely to make a comeback for the next two, even three elections and a thumping majority, O’Farrell made the mistake of treating the NSW parliamentary press gallery with contempt. Ministers rarely hold press conferences or throw the lazy sods an ‘announceable’, so the media set itself as the Opposition. In a salutary lesson for the Abbott government, it shows that playing Sergeant Schultz, issuing statements instead of facing the cameras and not having the common courtesy to return calls before deadlines is a dangerous play. Sure, you can avoid the relentless questions on topics from Britney Spears to bikie shootings, but the habit of saying nothing can easily be turned into the perception of doing nothing, until you cut your losses and announce poor policy written on the back of a beer coaster, sponsored by the all-mighty liquor industry lobby. Instead of looking at the multiple causes and victims of violent assaults, Barry O’Farrell handed the papers their win. Really, the gloating is unseemly. Rather than ask the people of NSW to take a long, hard look at the way our casual acceptance of cultural norms not only around alcohol, but ego, as detailed here by Brandon Jack, followed up with this and this by Dane Rampe (which I might not agree with entirely, but I’ll take the lived experience of men of the same generation as the ones punching and dying as more relevant), the Premier folded, earned the plaudits of the crusaders and blamed one factor for an upsurge drop in violent assaults outside the domestic setting.

This is a Government creating new law in a category where crime rates are falling and introducing mandatory minimum sentences that will increase the cost of our criminal justice system and are unlikely to be at the forefront of a drunk’s mind when they throw a punch.

We’re the biggest state in Australia and we’re being governed by the Beverly Hillbillies.

Disclosure: after the Sydney Morning Herald’s deputy editor, Ben Cubby, tweeted this today, I thought I would add the following, even though my family’s financial interests and the occupations of people I talk to when I am not writing for five hours are none of your damned business. My parents are part-owners of a pub in Muswellbrook. My sister manages a pub in Newcastle. My parents are not members of the AHA. I have friends who work for the major liquor industry lobby groups. They might want to throttle me for a few of these points. I have not been paid, encouraged or influenced to write this or any other form of written or oral communication on this issue by my parents’ financial interests OR my relationship with anyone else. These are my thoughts on a media crusade I believe is unwarranted and a Government reaction to that campaign which I see as unwise and unworkable. You’re welcome.