While a drinking culture exists in Australia, we will unfortunately continue to see people involved in anti-social drunken behaviour.
People need to take personal responsibility for their actions, there is also a need for public education and greater awareness about the dangers of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. While there are a number of measures being rolled out by the NSW Government to tackle the issue, I don’t believe the introduction of mandatory minimum sentencing for ‘one-punch’ offences will have the positive effect they are hoping for.
There are several issues with having such prescriptive legislation. Firstly, it takes away the Court’s discretion to consider the subjective circumstances of an offender. It will also make it harder for juries to convict and it will increase the cost of the justice process. Lastly, it will result in a greater number of matters being defended.
Essentially what this legislation means is that a person who is intoxicated and hits someone once causing death would face a mandatory minimum eight year term of imprisonment, while someone who is sober and hits a person multiple times causing death is not subject to a mandatory minimum eight year term of imprisonment.
The difficulty with such legislation is that no two assaults or offenders are the same. It will limit the Court’s discretionary power when handing down a sentence. I will be watching closely to see whether this legislation has the desired effect the Government is seeking.
In the meantime, pubs, clubs and hotels can also play a part to tackle drunken behaviour. They can do more by assisting patrons in getting off the street and home safely after a night out. Licenced venues are reaping the financial benefits of the Australian drinking culture, so why can’t they do more to help patrons get home safely? Sure, there have been moves by publicans and hoteliers to ensure responsible service of alcohol and increased security measures, but what about a greater focus once patrons leave? They should be considering options to assist patrons with getting home rather than simply washing their hands of patrons once they leave the venue.
One option to curb drunken behaviour could be the introduction of shuttle buses with security.
Shuttle buses already exist in suburban areas to ensure patrons who have had an enjoyable evening get home safely – why can’t that happen elsewhere? A big part of the problem is that we need to get intoxicated people off the streets in Sydney CBD. Where there are limited public transport options and taxi shortages, there is an opportunity for proprietors to identify ways to get patrons home safely to avoid drunken behaviour. This obviously wouldn't be for every person who visits the venue, but it would provide another option for those needing to get home.