No right and no wrong

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Barry O’Farrell got it so right this week with his tough crackdown on alcohol-fuelled violence.

Barry O’Farrell got it so wrong this week with his tough crackdown on alcohol-fuelled violence.

Really, either paragraph works so just circle the one that suits you best.

It’s been interesting to watch the response to Tuesday’s announcement that strict new regulations would be in force in Sydney’s drinking hot spots, including 1.30am lockouts and mandatory sentences for coward punches should the offender be drunk or on drugs.

The response has generally been predictable and, whilst not trying to be overly stereotypical, falls into two pretty succinct categories.

Those who are cheering and believe this tough stance from the Premier is spot on are generally over 40, with a fair bit of life experience behind them. They may well have teenagers they are genuinely worried about, and they speak with authority when it comes to how things used to be out and about in town.

Problem is, this group generally has zero experience of being out in the city or Kings Cross late at night, and their entire argument is based on cases the media happens to highlight.

Through talkback radio stations like 2GB, beat-up current affairs TV shows and newspapers like The Daily Telegraph, they form a view on what it’s like and stick to it.

However, despite their lack of experience when it comes to the actual situation, this group is politically influential and it is no surprise that Barry O’Farrell not only took the tough stance to ensure he was seen to be finding a solution, but also did the media rounds on Wednesday morning.

Those who aren’t so happy about the move are generally younger, in their teenage years or their 20s.

They live this every week – they know what it’s like out and about in the CBD and Kings Cross, and they know it’s not quite as bad as it is sometimes made out.

They feel for the families of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie, but probably haven’t had enough life experience to truly understand what it all means.

And it seems, they feel like they are part of a majority being targeted for the actions of a minority.

So who’s right? Short answer – nobody.

One thing we do need to strip away from this argument is the blanket opinions we seem to place on the whole scenario.

Fact: Not all teenagers drink themselves into oblivion on a night out.

Fact: Not all offenders who hit somebody unprovoked are singlet-wearing ‘roid munchers’.

Fact: Alcohol is not the root of all evil, and we need to be careful with blaming it, rather than an individual, for particular actions.

Fact: Not all nights in Kings Cross end with violence, vomiting and drama.

Heck, I’d even argue that there’s plenty of teenagers out there far more responsible than when their parents were their age – how many of us have heard our parents talk about how they drove home full as a state school on alcohol because the chances of being caught were so minor?

The reality is though that we do have a problem. Minority or not, there’s an issue that needs to be resolved.

It’s true that alcohol is easier to get your hands on than Craig Thompson’s credit card, but I’m not sure that 10pm closing times for bottle shops or 1.30am lockouts are really the solution.

In fact, I think some of the better parts of Barry O’Farrell’s plan have been buried beyond the highlighted points.

Community awareness and media campaigns to address the culture of binge drinking and the associated drug and alcohol related violence is a real winner and if implemented correctly, can have a big influence on the next generation of teenagers on the verge of hitting the city.

Free buses running from Kings Cross to the CBD every 10 minutes is another winner, though until we have reliable, 24-hour transport throughout the entire Sydney metropolitan area, its impact is not as big as it could be.

Barry O’Farrell did what he’s employed to do this week – he acted with strength to an issue gaining significant traction in the wider community. It doesn’t mean he’s right. Nor does it mean he’s wrong.

No government intervention, no lockout, no threat of minimum sentence can physically stop an individual from being a complete lunatic. Mr O’Farrell hopes that the lunatics will be less likely to cause drama now. I’ve got my doubts, because this whole thing goes so much deeper than nights out in Kings Cross or the city.

It is about discipline, respect and attitude. And fixing it may take a generation or more.

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