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Alcohol and violence: a complex issue in search of leadership

The start of 2014 has seen a tragic, but sadly predictable discussion around Australia about lives lost or hanging in the balance due to violence. All of the high-profile cases involved alcohol. These…

Daniel Christie is the latest young person to have lost his life to senseless, alcohol-related violence, adding to public pressure for nationwide action. AAP

The start of 2014 has seen a tragic, but sadly predictable discussion around Australia about lives lost or hanging in the balance due to violence. All of the high-profile cases involved alcohol. These are the tip of a horrifying iceberg.

Family violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse, gang violence, sexual assault, bullying and many other forms of violence erode our community day by day and destroy lives. When a young man is brain-damaged in a bar fight, his loved ones often lose a part, if not most, of their lives to a senseless act.

A self-perpetuating cycle of violence

Many offenders' lives and those of their families are also ruined. Children who survive family or domestic violence are three times more likely to become perpetrators and twice as likely to become victims. Boys who are abused physically by their fathers, who normally do so when drunk, are twice as likely to be perpetrators of bar-room violence as adults. They often destroy their lives as well as others before they even really begin.

By not acting on this cycle of violence in all its manifestations, not just alcohol-related, we are perpetuating and worsening the situation.

The recent public debate, including comments by prime minister Tony Abbott and opposition leader Bill Shorten, has demonstrated the level of public pressure on Australian leaders to act on this problem. Our society is clearly no longer willing to pay the huge financial costs and devastating emotional costs associated with violence.

Harsher responses feel desirable. They give us a sense of justice when such senseless tragedy makes us as individuals and as a society feel powerless. But tough penalties seldom affect people’s actions in the heat of the moment, especially when alcohol or other drugs are involved.

Public rallies, such as November’s protest in Sydney at the sentence for the attacker who killed Thomas Kelly, push for tougher penalties at the risk of neglecting other, more effective ways to prevent violence. AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Alcohol makes violence more likely

Violence begets violence; alcohol makes it so much worse.

The research literature from around the world is clear: when you grow up in a setting where violence is common or acceptable, you are far more likely to become a perpetrator, a victim, or both. Violence doesn’t comply with the labels we impose. When you are a victim or observer of violence as a child your world will be tainted, and for many this means perpetuating the cycle.

Yet we also know that some people do not repeat this cycle. Research is continuing to identify the protective factors at play. The life-course research field has been identifying many factors we can and should be acting upon.

This is important work, but it is also far, far more effective and preferable to prevent violence from occurring, rather than trying to fix victims.

Alcohol and other drug use has been found in every study to influence the likelihood of people experiencing violence. By definition, these drugs alter our state of mind. They play a role in people acting on impulse, indulging impulses they would not normally entertain.

This is because the substance they are using reduces people’s inhibition. It helps them not to think of the consequences of their actions, makes them focus entirely on the moment or simply increases their adrenaline. But drug use (the most common being alcohol) is not a defence for violence – and never should be.

Proven answers exist

While there are many causes and effective solutions to violence, acting on alcohol is the only one that can have an immediate impact.

There are effective solutions at hand and an international framework ready to adopt. The large body of work in this area clearly shows what works, and what doesn’t.

Closing pubs earlier has been found to consistently reduce assaults and emergency department attendances. Strict enforcement of existing licensing laws has also been found to be a key element in any successful management of alcohol-related violence. Education campaigns and vague references to personal responsibility have been found ineffective at best and, in some cases, have even been associated with an increase in harm.

The Global Campaign for Violence Prevention, co-ordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO), has identified key goals towards which efforts can be directed. These include: identifying violence prevention as a health issue and building foundations for ongoing violence-prevention efforts.

The strategy promotes the implementation of evidence-informed programs that focus on: parenting, life skills, social norms, alcohol, the risks of firearm-related deaths and injuries, and services for victims.

National strategy is needed

The costs of violence in Australia run to many billions of dollars. Our research estimate is that since 2003-04 Australia has committed more than $5.8 billion to educational, social and community programs in which tackling violence in one form or another is a significant element.

The costs of violence in the community indicate a poor return on that investment of public funds. The human costs are unfathomable and unacceptable.

The global action plan calls specifically for the development of national plans. Measures to reduce violence currently sit in many different silos and often fall under different jurisdictions. Many excellent strategies do exist to reduce specific types of violence, which would ideally work with the broader strategy.

There is no clear voice about the links between different types of violence and the risk and protective factors that contribute to different types of violence. Most importantly, there is a lack of clarity about which interventions can work for communities, specific populations, offenders and victims.

A commitment by Australia to a whole-of-government National Strategy to Prevent and Reduce Violence (NPRV) shows that we want to seriously and strategically tackle the problem. The plan must cover the cultural, educational, geographic, societal, community and public safety aspects of a significant public health and policy issue.

Australia has successfully and sustainably reduced traffic deaths through compulsory seat-belt and drink-driving legislation, the effects of smoking by packaging controls and weapons-related deaths through gun controls. The current wave of violence - whether it involves alcohol, is domestic in nature, sport-related, involves indigenous communities or any other form of violence - demands a national strategy to change our attitude to violence, its perpetrators and victims.

It will take leadership and perseverance to achieve this positive legacy for future generations.


This article was co-authored by former Queensland police superintendent Dan Keating.

Join the conversation

49 Comments sorted by

    1. Peter Miller

      Principal Research Fellow at Deakin University

      In reply to Trevor Kerr

      Thanks for your comment Trevor. I'm going to be optimistic here. Kevin Rudd led on saying sorry to the aboriginal people; John Howard led on guns, and many of our elected leaders do rise above the party dross, if only for a little while. I'm going to hope we can inspire some of them. Idealistic-I know :-)

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    2. Trevor Kerr

      ISTP

      In reply to Peter Miller

      http://amavic.com.au/page/News/AMA_Victoria_Board_undertakes_FebFast/ could be a good start. A group of female leaders would be much more effective. Ms Plibersek & Ms Abbott at the core? Women from broadcasting, media, entertainment have to break the cliche that having a (large) glass or three of wine at the end of a hard day is some kind of reward and what "everybody does". Men can't do it - look at the new G-G's conflict. Women are much more affected by the harms, because they are left to do the nurturing.

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  1. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    In the good old days pubs closed at 6pm in Australia and were not open on Sundays. In fact this wasn't ALL that long ago - late 1960s from memory.

    Workers would finish their days toil and head to the pub. You'd think with 1- 2 hours of drinking time alcohol wouldn't be a problem, but it was a case of quantity - 12 beers in a short period of time. Beers often ordered before 6 and lined up on the table.

    Dad would stagger out of the pub and home to a meal on the table - often accompanied by another half dozen bottles under the arm.

    I know you say shorter opening hours will help, but I wonder.

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Uhm Stephen ... we don't want to go back to the six o'clock swill ... that transferred drunken violence from the streets into the family home every night and in part helped create the present historical problem.

      Experience in Newcastle and before that Armidale NSW shows that a Community Accord limiting entry after 12 midnight and restricting shot service after 11pm has a mitigating effect.

      However, expect slow progress on this matter from politicians because the major political parties are deep in the pockets of the Hotel Industry that has a vested interest in oversupplying drunken patrons.

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    2. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to John Phillip

      I think the evidence is in showing that alcohol fuelled violence is directly related to the availability of alcohol to persons who may already be at least partially intoxicated.

      So, reduce the number of sale points available and the hours of service and the incidence of violence will reduce. This is supported by statistics from the Newcastle Accord and also the earlier Armidale NSW Accord.

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    3. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to John Phillip

      John: In NZ 'the six o'clock swill', and that is what it was known as, swelled a bit after 5pm, and the punters were tossed out at 20 past six.

      Most were not YET drunk, they had poured glass after glass down their throats, but it hadn't had time to hit!

      Pubs had bottle stores, but there were no other liquor outlets.

      (Of course there was after hour trading and sly grog shops)

      The law was that a barman --- rarely it was a woman woman ---- was not permitted to continue serving a person…

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    4. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to John Phillip

      OK John, so start writing and emailing now. Start a petition on Getup! or Change.org

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    5. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      If the barman served a person who was drunk "then the hotel had to keep control of that person until they were sober, and they were responsible for that persons actions."

      I like that direction of responsibility onto the person or employer or corporation responsible for causing the problem (drunkenness).

      At present in Australia the alcohol supply industry bears no responsibility for the social damage caused by their products ... time for some anti-alcohol advocating tobacco style.

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    6. Robert Tony Brklje
      Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      It's time to accept reality and reach out for a new solution. Due to the stresses of a psychopathically designed capitalist system people upon the whole need a method to de-stress. Alcohol is the current method but on the whole it has some very bad side effects, violence and death. So substitute an alternate substance like marijuana and substantially reduce the negative impacts of alcohol, those being violence and death.
      With proper monitoring and control the balance of THC and CBD as well as other cannabinoids to minimise harm and to promote calming affects.
      Rather than trying to control the consumption of alcohol provide a far less harmful substitute (based upon fact not the insanity of years of vested interests government propaganda).

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    7. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Robert Tony Brklje

      Uhm Robert ... go and read the research evidence again. What you are suggesting is the same as jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

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    8. Robert Tony Brklje
      Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      I think I covered the point about government propaganda and marijuana pretty well and all 'real' research indicates pretty much that. The fire in this case is a blatant corrupt lie produced by greed, racism and the psychopathic need of those in power to feed their ego by destroying the lives of millions of people all based upon lies. Your the one that needs to do some research beyond the government propaganda, start here http://uspatent6630507.com/, now don't you feel silly.

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    9. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Robert Tony Brklje

      NO, Robert I feel that you are proposing something that will increase harm for young people especially and all people in general. There are too many junkies already and the various government agencies, and the few corrupt individuals within them are the only beneficiaries of your advocacy.

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    10. Robert Tony Brklje
      Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

      retired

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Ahh yes, junkies the derogatory, vermin to be exterminated. Obviously the drugs are not you focus, control over others is. You define yourself by the language you use. Why are so many business executives psychopaths who see no value in humanity other than what they can exploit from it.
      My advocacy is freedom of choice, yours is the freedom to choose for others.

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    11. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Robert Tony Brklje

      Robert an ordinary person on a Bondi bus could reasonably conclude from your latest diatribe that you are a regular user of illicit substances for unknown reasons who chooses to destroy himself and wishes to buttress his addiction by claiming any opponents to illicit drug use are fascists.

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    12. Peter Miller

      Principal Research Fellow at Deakin University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      there's a big difference between 6pm and 3am Stephen. Most people just go home and go to sleep at 3am. Our research has identified that midnight is the clear point where people become significantly mor intoxicated, but 3 am seems to be a time which suits many larger cities. Basically the whole of the USA and Canada shut their pubs at 2am, so it's not unprecedented. We really need to find a time that allows people to still have fun, but where the harm associated is at a minimum. At the moment, there's a clear line at 3am according to public opinion, but that may change if harm levels don't drop far enough.

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  2. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    Well I am not surprised that most alcohol and violence campaigns don’t work (and are a total waste of taxpayer’s money}, while some others systems do work.

    Alcohol drinking and related violence are risks.

    But most campaigns are educational type campaigns that equate to “administrative control” in the hierarchy of risk control measures.

    Highly unlikely to work.

    http://www.safework.sa.gov.au/contentPages/EducationAndTraining/HazardManagement/DealingWithHazards/dealRiskControl.htm

    Early closing times are definitely “elimination”, as this shuts off access to alcohol completely.

    Highly likely to work.

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    1. Jarrod Chestney-Law

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Until people start to operate illegally, yeah. You'll see drops during trials because it's not worth anyones time to circumvent. People will just go home and get drunk (yay for domestic violence!) during the trial and then a combination of that an illegally operating places if it were rolled out on a large scale.

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  3. Andy Cameron

    Care giver

    The current disgusting epidemic of street violence is clearly a product of late/24 hour licences. In my day of pubing and clubbing (way back in the 1990s!), all pubs closed at 11 pm. Sometimes we thought it was a pisser, but then there were nightclubs, which had strict door-bitches, and bouncers dealing with any trouble. If pub licences were restricted to 11 pm or midnight, the level of violence would drop dramatically.

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  4. Jack Arnold

    Polymath

    The required immediate response is to make the perpetrator's of violence responsible for the consequences of their actions using the current laws.

    Simply legislating to make the VOLUNTARY ingestion of alcohol or any other substance known to cause anti-social behaviour, an aggravating circumstance at the sentencing stage of legal proceedings would direct judicial discretion to the heavy end of sentencing rather than the current slap on the wrist with a wet tram ticket.

    Presently, any lawyer clutching a fist full of good behaviour references all claiming that the convicted offender is really a cherubic angel rather than the out-of-control monster offender created by the voluntary ingestion of a behaviour altering substance, will exploit the system for the benefit of their client by claiming a mitigating circumstance.

    How can voluntary ingestion be a mitigating circumstance?

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    1. Nicol Booth

      Teacher

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      An interesting thought, but one that is likely to be ineffective. Many studies have shown that tough sentencing does not act as a deterrent, particularly in the case of crimes committed on impulse, which any crime committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs is. Tougher sentencing makes the community feel safer, but has no real impact on crime rates.
      How about we try something that will actually work? If a family member of mine was killed or injured in an instance of random alcohol fuelled violence it is going to be little comfort that the perpetrator was stupid enough to risk a heavy sentence. I would much rather that I was protected from this occurring through the application of measures that prevent this type of behaviour.

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    2. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Nicol Booth

      Prevention is always better than cure...........but it seems that we have to "nurse" many sectors of the community as though they are children.........alcohol, nutrition, drugs, bad behaviour etc........

      If education needs to change it needs to dramatically change - why waste billions on education if many young people turn out idiots.

      I know that there are many mitigating circumstances, but again what good is learning at school if you are going to end up a social tragedy, costing the community billions.

      There has to be some nexus between education and behavior.

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    3. christopher muir

      retired TV executive

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I once laughed at the notion of politicians being breath tested in Parliament; I don't anymore and believe that many are on the side of the liquor industry, disregarding their civic duty to make laws to protect the innocent.

      For the first time in my life I recently gave Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross, a wide berth for fear of encountering some dangerous, drunken hoodlum. My thanks, to those pink=cheeked NSW politicians for allowing that to happen.

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    4. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Nicol Booth

      HI Nicole ... read my post again because you have missed the point.

      The recent Packer case where a brawling footballer was jailed for two years and subsequently stripped of his football contract shows that some parts of the community are serious about reducing alcohol fuelled violence.

      My proposal is to apply the current law to those individuals who recklessly ingest or inject substances that cause subsequent anti-social behaviour and makes them responsible for their actions.

      Indeed, including the full financial cost of restitution in the sentence may be a further reform to mitigate the harm to often innocent victims.

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    5. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to christopher muir

      It's always about vested interest especially with politicians. Votes matter much more than national interest. Alas. our democratic system only works when all of us take a greater interest in the goings on in our country. Apathy of the general populace in Germany saw to the glory days of the Nazis.
      One has to only walk along any part of Sydney/ Melbourne CBDs (after 11 pm) to encounter unacceptable and utterly violent happenings.
      The truth is that we have become a LAZY nation; the breeding grounds for thugs and drunks.
      Perhaps we need to embrace enforcement much more effectively and immediately. But if the top leadership is unwilling (vested interest), then we may have to accept the fact that geography will ultimately pre-determine our destiny. The state of affairs in Indonesia, Malaysia and the rest of our immediate neighbours (except squeaky clean Singapore) may be the way we'll go, too.

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  5. Peter Hindrup

    consultant

    Why not have breath tests, going in, and leaving licensed premises?

    At higher than a given level you do not get in, at anything above a certain level, you do not get out, and the establishment has the responsibility of keeping you until the alcohol level is below the stipulated level.

    Anybody on the street being rowdy or disruptive, breath test. Above a given level, lock them up until they have 'sobered'. But charge them with being 'drunk and disorderly'.

    Ought to clear things up rather quickly.

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Peter Hindrup

      Now, now Peter ... suggesting sensible pragmatic solutions that may cost the hotel/alcohol industry is not in the best interests of the unelected political hacks that parasitise the party system.

      Remember, we are not allowed to make those responsible for the problem pay for the problem that they create.

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  6. David Carwardine

    Checking at A818

    Haven't read it but it's not complex. Its not about alcohol or strength or some scary name like ice instead of speed. Our youth recognize now not your desire of what yours
    was. When you acknowledge the elephant in the world financial situation they face as opposed to what you where able to be sold for good or bad you then may have the right to judge their show for survival. Be honest, who is in denial.

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  7. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    We cannot deny that alcohol is an exacerbating force in the matter of violence on the streets. But let's go back one step.

    Why do so many of us want to get so out of it? Is it because being in it is not fulfilling? That our society - a society that is run by the economy, that is more and more geared up to benefit the haves, is not working?

    I don't know the answer to this question, but how many more part-time jobs (McJobs) are there now as opposed to full time jobs?

    If we are not satisfied…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to John Newton

      Alcohol has been a part of our culture from day one.......but not as a good part like the Mediterranean countries, more like Russia's addiction to vodka and other alcohol, which was causing great social problems not so long ago.

      Sometimes it is boredom/ennui, low self esteem, dissatisfaction with life, dissatisfaction with the government and business mores that treat people like chattels or commodities....and so on.

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    2. John Newton

      Author Journalist

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I like alcohol very much Stephen. But mostly I use it, I don't abuse it. But even in my own case, I note that whentimes are togh and thnigs get a little shitty, I hit the wine a little harder.

      I'm not saying alcohol is the problem, quite the opposite. Alcohol abuse is the symptom.

      Is our increasingly alienating society the cause?

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to John Newton

      Hi John

      from 18 - 38 I used to drink alcohol. The older I got I found that after 3+
      drinks I would get inebriated and end up not too well the next day.

      After one particular bad morning of the night after I decided to give it up as a lost cause. Best thing I ever did, and I was able to give it up easily, thank goodness.

      I think there is an intolerance to alcohol in our family, which leads me to think that some folks react worse than others in terms of inebriation and effect.

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    4. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      John: I always disliked alcohol, and alcohol disliked me!

      Very little made me sick. I didn't like the taste. i drank a little wine with a good dinner, one glass. But basically open a bottle of wine, put the cork near me and I was 'gone'.

      I started getting a breathing affected reaction to it, used antihistamines for a short time and gave up drinking it entirely around thirty. I still use use alcohol in cooking,

      The breath analyser cops do not appreciate being told 'over 45 years', when they ask 'How long since you had a drink'. But they don't appreciate being told, "MM, about half an hour ago, a cup of tea".

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  8. Carolyn van Langenberg

    Retired

    Yes, leadership is of paramount importance on the question of abusive language and behaviour. The idiot who thumps heads and is surprised that he has caused serious bodily harm, even death, is a symptom of this cultural malaise. He must take responsibility for his actions. The law is clear in these matters. But those at the top whose decisions cause serious harm claim exoneration.

    In SMH, January 2 2014, Michael Carr-Gregg points to 'under-fathering' as one of the reasons for the increase in…

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Carolyn van Langenberg

      A nice analysis Carolyn.

      Then add decentralising government jobs into urban regional centres connected by high speed NBN and so reduce the demand for Australian owned metro real estate, leaving more for foreign investment.

      Perhaps the optimal solution that follows is forming the Seventh State from the Hunter to the Queensland border to ensure that decentralisation occurs. Certainly relying upon the Notional Party only results in being betrayed into selling Australian farmland to foreign energy corporations.

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  9. Pat Moore

    gardener

    Good on you Peter for all your efforts and your insights here. I just can't help but point out, though I know it will provoke the gender wars here, that there's is a rather large unacknowledged elephant in the room. And trying to have the discussion while ignoring it, limits the informing premises and therefore the scope of the discussion.

    Perhaps said subject (the overwhelming maleness of perpetrators) can be taken as a given. Some anti-violence awareness campaigns have seemed to have operated…

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    1. Pat Moore

      gardener

      In reply to Pat Moore

      And I neglected to add Vale lovely Daniel and true commiserations to his family and to those of all all the individuals who have me with such unjust and random violence.

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    2. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Pat Moore

      Another thoughtful post, thank you Pat.

      See my post above regarding sentencing offenders convicted of offences after the voluntary ingestion of substances causing anti-social behaviour.

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  10. Geoff Geary

    Geologist

    Perhaps Australia should think about raising the drinking age to 21 as it is in the US. Having lived in a Muslim country (Indonesia) for a time, it is noticeable that they don't have nearly the same degree of violence that we have here.

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  11. Jarrod Chestney-Law

    logged in via Facebook

    Oh, excellent, more banning and so on being suggested. So I want to go and have a cocktail or two after a theatre show, but now I can't because some meathead from the suburbs has come in and gotten smashed and now the place closes at 10pm. Because said meathead is a model citizen when not drinking. Yeah, right.

    The problem isn't alcohol, it's a whole raft of cultural views that encourage the sort of behaviour and attitudes that end in violence. But whatever, just ban everything and punish…

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    1. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Jarrod Chestney-Law

      Hmmm… the problem isn't alcohol. The blasted suburbs (that breed meatheads) are the culprits. What a moment of clarity!! Yippeeeee!

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  12. Rex Gibbs

    Engineer/Director

    Seems to me that there are a couple of issues missing from the debate.

    I was king hit from behind and severely concussed in the mid 70's by person who made a practice of picking on people in pubs and other places frequented by people who had been out and had a few drinks and then attacking them from behind when they chose to leave the unpleasant behaviour behind. I had not even exchanged words. I was walking across a carpark and was chosen because I was a school prefect. I was told later by police…

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    1. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Rex Gibbs

      An interesting post Rex that would be covered by my proposal above regarding the VOLUNTARY INGESTION or VOLUNTARY INJECTION of substances known to cause anti-social behaviour.

      Certainly a ban on attending ALL premises serving alcohol for say a minimum of 12 months may reduce some attacks, provided any breaking of this court order resulted caused imprisonment for at least the residual term of the court ban without the need for a further court appearance.

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  13. Carmine Di

    Policy

    Peter, your article is fantastic contribution to the debate, already I have seen many wheeling out wheelbarrows they have been pushing for years in the hope that this time there will be an ear for their one pillar theoretical generalisations.

    If we are going to act on this for once and for all, lets please go with the evidence, and where there is none invest to find it. Only then will policy have a direction.

    My fear is that given there is a lack of good evidence, we will return to the masculinities platitudes and availability arguments when it is clear it is not just one of these factors but a mix of these and many others - let's be courageous, it is complex and the solutions we find should not be based on any idealism but on the evidence.

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