The state government of New South Wales in Australia, a nation that takes pride in its drinking culture, has recently decided to make it so difficult to get a drink anywhere you’d be better off sharing a crème de menthe with your nan than hitting the town this weekend.
In central Sydney, punters are now unable to enter a pub or club after 1:30am and cannot get a drink after 3am. There are a few exceptions, like casinos and hotel bars, the managers of which were last seen in fits of ecstasy with dollar signs rolling in their eyes.
These new kneejerk laws are a perfect example of lawmakers’ childish desire to Do Something in response to shocking or widely news-covered events. In this case, it was the tragic death of Daniel Christie in a single-punch attack in the King’s Cross district of Sydney on New Year’s Eve that encouraged officials to clamp down on boozing. But they clearly haven’t thought through whether their new laws will make things better for the public, or worse.
Though the authoritarian reduction in trading hours for pubs and clubs has been the most hotly debated government reaction to Christie’s death, to my mind the most worrying changes are the increased mandatory sentences for those found to commit certain crimes while under the influence of alcohol. As Sydney Morning Herald columnist Michael Pascoe put it recently, lying beyond the arbitrary and unfair trading hours legislation ‘are some of the most draconian sentencing proposals this side of Russia’.
What these changes represent is the strengthening of sentences beyond what is reasonable for various offences. For example, get caught on the fringe of a scuffle that a police officer calls a drunken ‘affray’ and you are immediately staring down the barrel of a four-year minimum jail sentence.