Carlo's Corner: I must be really tough to have avoided drunken violence

Saturday, January 25, 2014
Media hysteria aside, statistics show assaults outside the home in NSW have dropped by 21% since 2008.

I am clearly a pretty tough guy. I mean I must be, seeing as I've been going out and getting drunk quite frequently in Sydney for years now and have never once been assaulted.

True, I don't exactly “work out”, and I look more like a deflated beanbag than a Mr Universe contender, but as anyone who reads the Daily Telegraph will tell you, the city is in the grip of an out-of-control tidal wave of drunken violence.

So I can only think it's my intimidating physical presence that frightens off potential assailants, who must take one look at me and think: “No way am I king-hitting that bastard!”

And nor have I, when out drinking, ever really seen much drunken violence from others. So I assume I look so threatening, no one in my vicinity dares misbehave.

In fact, the only real incident of drunken violence I can recall seeing took place last year in Darwin, when, just behind where I was sitting in a bar, a group of off-duty soldiers started brawling.

It was definitely an upsetting incident ― I mean, I nearly spilled my beer. But I cannot help but think the brawl had less to do with alcohol itself than a certain type attracted to the military ― pumped-up, macho young men out to prove just how tough they truly are.

I suppose there might be a more convincing explanation for why I have avoided drunken violence. It could be the media campaign is a beat-up. Though the media report real (and often tragic) cases of violent assaults, it may be far less widespread than implied.

And it turns out that, media hysteria aside, in New South Wales violent assaults outside the home have actually dropped by 21% since 2008.

On the other hand, domestic violence is occurring at a far greater level ― and growing ― without the same attention. There have been 90 deaths from “one-punch assaults” in NSW in the past 13 years, whereas 32 women were killed by domestic violence in NSW last year alone. NSW police respond to 370 incidents of domestic violence every day.

But actual facts did not stop the NSW government rushing to pass a series of “tough” measures to crack down on drunken violence — including mandatory jail sentences for assaults, greater police powers to test for drugs and alcohol and 3am lock-outs at venues in “trouble spots”.

With the government announcing it will build more jails to cope with an expected influx of prisoners under the new laws, it seems yet another excuse to give police and courts more powers.

Because if it was truly about stopping violence on the streets, the government would not be imposing measures that have proven to do the exact opposite. In Victoria, for instance, the government scrapped a 2am lock-out regulation in 2008 after it was shown to have increased violence.

Of course, simply because domestic violence statistics are worse and street violence rates are dropping does not mean such violence is not a concern. It is important society seeks to find the causes of all violence and seek ways to eradicate it.

But while alcohol is no doubt a contributing factor, the fact it is perfectly possible to get drunk frequently while avoiding violence suggests there is more than just booze at the root of the issue.

Well, luckily the Daily Tele is on the case! In a January 23 opinion piece, columnist Sarrah La Marquand got to the very heart of the matter, laying the blame squarely at the feet of a 19th century son of an Irish convict: “It says a lot about Australia that we have managed to make a hero out of Ned Kelly. Despite a rap sheet that includes armed robbery and murder, the bushranger has long been hailed a national icon.

“And we wonder why some young men have a problem with aggression.”

Yes, clearly our nation's attitude to a man who died more than 130 years ago is the key. Presumably these drunk, violent young men have all read Kelly's famous Jerrilderie Letter, in which he explains the forces that drove him to become an outlaw, and thought: “I know how I'll honour Kelly's hatred of police brutality, opposition to exploitation by rich land owners and desire for Irish freedom ― I'll king hit a random stranger from behind! It's what Ned would have wanted me to do.”

Ironically, you are more likely to find examples of the sort of culture that creates an atmosphere where drunk young men want to prove themselves through physical violence by reading the rest of the Daily Tele. For instance, as part of its campaign to use drunken violence to force NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell to introduce more law-and-order policies, the paper ran a front page demanding the premier “man up!”

And O'Farrell responded. The Daily Tele, no doubt revelling in having its sexist rhetoric repeated back to it, reported on January 23 that O'Farrell called on courts to get tougher on drunken violence by insisting: “The judiciary needs to man up...”

The article contained no word on whether the government would stump up the cash to pay for sex changes for female members of the judiciary, or whether simply attending their job in drag would suffice.

You could suggest such language reflects exactly the sort aggressive, macho “tough guy” bullshit that is actually the problem, but that would be ridiculous. We all know it is really that bushranger executed in Melbourne in 1880.


From GLW issue 994