The tragic death of Daniel Christie after a violent assault in Kings Cross at Christmas shocked the nation. How could this happen again? It prompted NSW premier Barry O’Farrell to toughen penalties for fatal ‘one punch’ attacks. In Victoria, the opposition has called for similar laws to be enacted. But while there are many views on how to tackle the problem, most agree that stricter sentencing alone will not stop the violence.
Here, leading Australians offer their views on how to arrest a social problem that is costing young lives.
Ron Barassi AM
AFL legend who was assaulted when he went to the aid of a bash victim in 2009
What sort of man or woman do you want to be? Let’s expose the real face of drug and alcohol-fuelled violence. Instead of glamourising and sensationalising at every opportunity – from Underbelly to the “News” – we should use every means available to show that it’s uncool, destructive, bullying, cowardly, ugly and a huge burden on the rest of the community. Get the message out there! It is unacceptable. It is the behaviour of losers.
Victorian premier 1982-1990
Fifty years ago we all suspected smoking was bad for our health. Then science came along and proved it. Yet, throughout it all, the cigarette companies were in denial, refusing to acknowledge the truth of what their products were doing to the population.
Ultimately, legislators and health experts forced them to confront the issue and society is healthier because of their actions. Of course, big tobacco had to be prised out of sponsorships of sports and the arts and their seductive advertising of cigarettes that presented them as a passport to the high life. Left to their own devices, nothing would have been done.
Alcohol is the new tobacco, with the booze industry refusing to acknowledge the harm their products and their marketing are doing to us. As they did with smoking, our lawmakers need to be brave and stare down the vested interests who prefer to blame alcohol-fuelled violence on anything but their products and continue to market in unacceptable ways, such as sports advertising. The industry has had far too much influence on government policy for too long. It’s time to turn the tables on them.
Dr Steve Hambleton
President of the Australian Medical Association
You need a range of things to happen at the same time. There needs to be the recognition that probably the majority of alcohol users misuse alcohol, and that that misuse by the vast majority leads to a large minority of individuals who use alcohol at dangerous levels to their health.
We need a culture that starts to say the amount of unsafe use of alcohol is so high that in the interest of the majority we all have to examine whats going on. We have to think carefully about whether alcohol should be involved in sponsorship of sport because it’s such a powerful positive image, healthy outdoor sport linked with alcohol and that subliminal message is getting through to recruit the next generation of drinkers.
We have to think about pricing, because in many cases it’s cheaper than bottled water. Certainly cask wine is an issue. Volume taxation of alcohol means people are unlikely to switch from one product to another and that’s what we saw with alco-pops, they just change from pre-mixed drinks to something else.
City of Sydney Lord Mayor
The City’s been researching what currently happens in our late night precincts and what works in other cities. We’ve spoken to residents, business, police and late trading venues, and while I welcome the NSW Government’s new measures to deal with drug and alcohol-fuelled violence in Sydney, which sends a clear message that drug and alcohol-fuelled violence will not be tolerated, more needs to be done.
Like the introduction of 24-hour trains and buses on Friday and Saturday nights. 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 till 5.14AM. Taxis can be scarce.
In this period, huge numbers of people are on the street frustrated they can’t get home easily and trouble can flare. And while currently the NSW Government grants venues lifetime licences, renewable risk-based licensing permits would put trouble-spots which don’t police drunken violence out of business. Like a poor driver they’d simply not have their licence renewed, and that licence would go to a responsible operator. There is also a need for a targeted, evidence-based strategy to address the issue of pre-fuelling.
It sickens me when I hear that someone has lost his life at the hands of a scumbag. As a professional fighter I know better than most the damage a punch can do and, believe me, a coward punch, a king hit, call it what you want, is a shameful, low act.
I’ve produced a television commercial pointing this out and am talking to the community because I want to help bring about a shift in culture to make people realise that it’s not brave but shameful to get drunk or stoned and attack someone, and especially when the target isn’t looking, isn’t expecting it, and has done nothing to provoke it. Anyone who does that risks killing another human being and ruining his own life forever.
I knew a boy in WA who died after being coward-punched, and, as a father, if something so senseless and evil ever happened to my child I don’t think I could cope. We have to get back to what we cherish in our society and that’s being decent to each other. Right now, we’re seeing people going out and for no reason at all taking the life of beautiful young men, like Daniel Christie, who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is so unjust. It makes me very angry. It has to stop.
Victoria premier 1999-2007
No one initiative will solve the alcohol-fuelled violence issue. Indeed if history has taught us anything, then nothing short of a comprehensive behaviour change campaign has any chance of success. Just think of the other successfully addressed “social evil” issues such as drink driving and smoking.
Each required a multiplicity of approaches, from public education campaigns, enforcement and peer pressure. Each stressed personal responsibility as the answer, not just a knee jerk reaction to new legislation. I suspect we have sufficient legislation already. New prohibitive laws by themselves are hardly going to change behaviour!
So, if we are serious about tackling alcohol fuelled violence let’s see it as our next Quit or Drink Driving campaign. This means setting aside serious money and resources for a comprehensive public education campaign. This means recruiting role models as ambassadors backed up by key community groups. This means better enforcement of existing laws.
All this requires federal, state and local governments to work together and give the issue the highest possible priority, not simply react to the latest incident with platitudes about tougher laws. Maybe then we can add another success to our smoking and drink driving initiatives.
Professor of Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne
2010 Australian of the Year
Emotionally everyone supports the tougher penalties strategy, but that’s shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. You want to prevent it in the first place? The strategies that have got the most evidence, the ones most likely to work are restricting the hours of the sale of alcohol as the NSW government has said it will do.
Secondly, the price. I mean it’s really incredibly cheap now. It’s been known for 30 to 40 years now that the price is one of the absolute key variables affecting how much people drink. Obviously those are the two very simple ones, which the alcohol industry will do it’s very best to resist.
Professor of Public Health at the University of Melbourne
Specialist in prevention of alcohol-related problems
Alcohol related harm to others (call it passive drinking) has been around for a long time. We have been able to gradually and very effectively reduce the harm from drink driving, but in virtually all other areas such as alcohol related domestic violence, street violence, sexual assaults, and the perceptions of violence in our nations CBDs, the situation has worsened. Ask the directors of hospital emergency departments and they will tell you that between one in seven and one in three admissions to emergency departments are alcohol related – and that some departments “resemble pubs more than they do hospitals”.
Ask police commissioners such as Andrew Scipione or Ken Lay and they will tell you they can’t police their way out of this problem and that 70 to 80 per cent of their “street” level engagements are alcohol related – a huge preventable waste of police resources.
We have developed these problems as we gradually deregulated our drinking culture over the last 30 years. It was led in Victoria where an average of two new liquor licenses were granted on average every day from 1986 to 2006. We have seen a rapid expansion of opening hours, aggressive local promotions (happy hours, drink five get one free etc), and a major build up of alcohol advertising across the major sports – so much so that the State of Origin Rugby League is more Tooheys v XXXX than NSW v Queensland!
And more recently we have witnessed the rise of the mega-booze barns – Dan Murphy’s and First Choice – accompanied by saturation advertising in our major news dailies. Using the same tactics as tobacco companies, the alcohol manufacturers, retailers and Hotels Associations have cajoled and frightened state and federal politicians and government officials to a point where effective public health approaches are constantly ignored. With Mr O’Farrell’s recent moves, perhaps the tide is changing.
Social commentator, writer and lecturer
I think it’s a long solution. We need to start allowing young men access to more emotional expressions than simply anger when they feel hurt, pain, vulnerable or shame. We train boys that the only negative emotion they can express is anger and then we’re surprised when they get fuelled up on alcohol and behave violently. We need to start reassessing masculinity and a repertoire of emotions we allow men to express. They should be able to cry. They should be able to express hurt, pain, vulnerability, shame without having to get angry.
Australian tennis great, Reverend
A lot of young people today have no vision or goals for their life. They haven’t been taught that they can be ‘somebody’, that they can reach for the sky and become a somebody. Many grow up thinking that they are hopeless having had negative words spoken about them. Our young people need to be taught to respect themselves and others.
The teaching of morals and values needs to come back into schools. We are a Christian nation and the ten commandments need to be built into the young – not to steal, not to kill, not to covet. When we have these values, our conscience takes over and let’s you know what is right and wrong.
Our young people need to be taught the consequences of alcohol on the brain and the body, that there is a long term price to pay. I grew up in a family where there was excessive alcohol but my mother taught me to respect my elders. We had nothing but I had someone speak a vision into my life and I caught it and said ‘why not’? The result was to be the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon.
I believe that the media doesn’t help by showing the alcohol fuelled violence that we see reported on the streets. Why do they have to show the bad behaviour of others?
Former Queensland premier 2007-2012
CEO of YWCA NSW
As the mother of two sons I’m horrified by recent violent events. Like other parents I worry about the safety of my sons and their friends. We live in a great city and I want my boys and other young people to enjoy themselves and have fun as I did at their age. Clearly we all have to do a lot better.
At YWCA NSW we recognise that people’s attitudes, behaviours and values are formed early in life. We know that early intervention works and we run a number of programs for young people about respectful, positive relationships. We start in primary schools, looking at issues such as bullying, and run all the way through high school and beyond, focusing on topics such as communication, anger management, life and social skills and safe relationships.
We know that these programs work because our participants tell us and we see the transformations for ourselves. Violence of any kind is unacceptable and we need to see more work being done to educate our young people about the consequences of this behaviour.
— Reporting by Jackson Stiles, Chris Shearer