Hardly a weekend goes by without a heavily publicised nightclub bashing or brawl plastered all over the newspapers. Melbourne seems to have suddenly become a lawless combination of A Clockwork Orange — infested by teams of delinquents thumping each other and, presumably, killing homeowners with giant phallus sculptures — and Gangs of New York, with armies of the underclass engaging each other in battles along Flinders Street.
Indeed, once you cross into postcode 3000, there will be blood. State politicians and regulators have been having a great time allocating the blame for the recent upsurge in violence as widely as possible. Apparently, it’s all the pubs’ fault.
As Liquor Licensing director Sue Maclellan said earlier this week: “Licensees must accept some responsibility for this problem”. And Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Gary Jamieson knew exactly who was responsible for the fatal bashing of Matthew McEvoy last weekend — “the licensees themselves have a lot to answer for”. Nevertheless, the police still plan on prosecuting those who are accused of actually doing the killing.
If there is one lesson to be drawn from all this political outrage, it is that pouring a pot of beer has suddenly become the moral equivalent of throwing that pot at somebody’s face. But the problem with “alcohol-fuelled crimes” isn’t the alcohol — or the liquor licence holders who are legally allowed to sell it — it’s the “crimes”.
Contrary to the animated moral panicking of our more aggressive talk-radio hosts, alcohol is not the primary contributing factor behind the recent increase in late-night street fighting. Drinking doesn’t cause violence. Idiots cause violence.
After all, how many readers of The Sunday Age reach the end of a bottle of wine or their third beer and decide that their evening will only be complete if they can find somebody to sucker punch? A few hours in the pub probably isn’t enough to turn your average, mild-mannered tax accountant into Begbie from Trainspotting.
And as a country originally founded as a convict settlement, we should know better than most how to deal with an idiot problem. Beating late-night violence requires stronger law enforcement, not amendments to liquor regulation.
Yet the State Government has decided to focus its energy on dreaming up new restrictions for venues that hold liquor licences.
The imposition of the lockout on clubs, bars and pubs between 2am and 7am downgraded Melbourne from a world-class 24-hour city to a world-class 19-hour city — at least until Spring Street finally realised that it was doing nothing except angering young voters.
The Government might claim that the 2am lockout was a trial and that they are busily reviewing the results, but does anybody really believe that they would have ended the lockout if it had been a success?
Only slightly deterred by the lockout’s manifest failure, the State Government is now considering a complete ban on alcohol in strip clubs — after all, strip club patrons and their staff aren’t likely to march on State Parliament. It’s also looking at closing down some of the city’s biggest pubs and clubs.
Every so often, dubious research tries to blame violence on something else. Facebook, YouTube, mobile telephones and the internet in general have all recently been proclaimed to “cause” teen aggression. Melbourne City Council recently commissioned a report that claimed rising temperatures caused by climate change would turn Melbourne into a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
So by disingenuously trying to link Melbourne’s problem of violence with the Federal Government’s anti-binge-drinking morality tale, the State Government has done the city a disservice.
The idea that alcohol directly causes violence has become just another talking point in the political assault on the demon drink — wrapped up in the breathless moral outrage that characterises the supporters of the nanny state.
It might take a bit more than five borrowed Hummer four-wheel-drives to quieten the streets of the city. When the 2am lockout was first announced, the Police Association argued that police numbers were critically low across the state, by nearly 3000. Nevertheless, from the Government’s perspective it must seem easier to try to regulate away our law-and-order problems, scapegoating pubs and clubs for the violence.
But as one of the placards at the protest against the lockout put it: “Police, not policy.”