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Proposed drunken violence laws stir up debate

Parliament is set to be recalled early to consider a package of legislative reforms, which could be in place by early 2014.

The proposed changes include blanket venue restrictions such as 1.30am lockouts and final drinks at 3am in an area broadly covering the CBD and Kings Cross area, with exemptions for Barangaroo, Star Casino and some tourist venues. Free busses will shuttle revellers from Kings Cross to the CBD on weekends.

However, the surprise move that has most alarmed civil liberties and law and justice experts is the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences. Under the proposals, a “one-punch” attack that results in death will receive an eight-year mandatory minimum sentence, but only where alcohol or drugs are involved.

The overall package received mixed responses, with general acknowledgement about the impacts of violence, but questions about the fairness and likelihood of success of the laws.

City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, a long-time campaigner for better equipping Council to deal with venues that fail in their responsibility to address violence and drunkenness, welcomed the actions, but called for improved public transport.

“On city streets late at night there are tens of thousands of people yet the last train from Kings Cross leaves at 1.44am and the next is not until 5.14am. That’s when numbers of people on the street are at their peak and they’re frustrated they can’t get home easily,” Cr Moore said.

A campaign opposing the laws, called Save Our Nightlife, has sprung from Facebook and the group has already organised one rally, with more planned.

Michael Mackenzie-Shreenan, co-ordinator of an inner-Sydney community services organisation and a former Special Constable in his native Scotland, thought that some of the measures where ill thought out and likely to impact on innocent people.

“We should remember that more people die daily through domestic violence, suicide and drug overdoses, with little if any public attention, let alone outrage,” Mr Mackenzie-Shreenan said.

“The proposed eight-year mandatory minimum sentence is based on failed logic. People who engage in violence rarely give second thought to the consequences of their action, and don’t rationally consider their options before acting out. Mandatory minimum sentencing will do little to make people think.”

Andrew Levins, DJ and operator of food venue The Dip in Goodgod small club, was quoted on the website of American magazine VICE questioning whether the lockouts would actually have stopped recent high-profile violent attacks.

“The two main ones being talked about that resulted in the death of two young men were separate – one was about 9pm and the other 10pm,” Mr Levins was quoted as saying.

“Nobody is going to a nightclub at 9pm, then leaving after getting shitfaced and knocking some poor kid out … Some people have drinks with friends, other people listen to music – these guys [perpetrators of violence] go to the city alone, get into a fight and go home.

“Goodgod and other venues like it rely on that late trade to turn a profit. If they can’t support themselves under the new laws, The Dip won’t be able to stay open either.”

Others are saying that alternative solutions need to be considered.

Greens NSW transport spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, has launched a community campaign calling on the government to re-instate 24-hour weekend trains cancelled in 1989 by the then Greiner government. Dr Faruqi also expressed concern about the impacts on entertainment precincts bordering the lockout zone.

“The problems with mandatory sentencing are well established, but I think there are real risks associated with the government’s approach to blanket lockouts and curfews in the CBD, particularly for suburbs adjoining the lockout zone such as Newtown,” Dr Faruqi said.

“The last thing we want is to see a transfer of unsocial behaviour from Kings Cross and the CBD to places like King Street. Instead of shifting the problem, the government has to address it at a root level, which includes comprehensive 24-hour public transport and holding licensees accountable for the service of alcohol in their venues, including significant penalties for licensing breaches.”

The issue of licensee responsibility was also raised by Mr Mackenzie-Shreenan.

“Barry O’Farrell’s proposals completely take the heat [away] from licenced venues’ responsibility for the environment that they create and profit from.”

 

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