Enough of the band-aids
January 21, 2014
Richard for 2011

Teens loading-up on the train to Kings Cross ... "Solutions" brought on by moral panic and hand-wringing ... What to do about the drinking culture ... And what not to do ... Anita Senaratna comments 

IF you live in King’s Cross and you catch the train home on a Friday or Saturday evening, chances are you’re familiar with the sight of newly legal teenagers dressed up for a night out, surreptitiously sipping soft drink and cheap vodka concoctions out of McDonald’s cups, getting louder and more obnoxious, while you’re sitting there reading your Mx trying not to feel old.

In the debate going on right now about how to tackle alcohol violence post-Daniel Christie and Thomas Kelly and today's announcement of Barry O'Farrell's "one punch laws", I think it's overlooked that there isn’t something in the air here that makes people want to down shots and pick fights - they’re loading up at their local bottlos long before they’re anywhere near the Coke sign.

At 23, it wasn’t that long ago that I was one of those teenagers on the train, although I’m pretty sure I was never that loud or obnoxious.

I’ve also lived in King’s Cross for over a year, and while writing for Postcode2011, I’ve interviewed local business owners, MPs, police and people involved in the We Love Kings X and Last Drinks campaigns, and I’ve heard a lot of convincing arguments on both sides of the political spectrum.

I’m exasperated by the all the moral panic going on in the media, all the hand-wringing over “the youth of today” and the general feeling I get that most of the major commentators on the issue haven’t set foot in a club in years.

However, I also agree that our drinking culture needs to change, and that people should be able to walk around Sydney at any time of the day and not fear for their lives.

In terms of what should be done about it, here’s where I have to disagree with popular opinion - I don't think the Newcastle solution is the right one for Kings Cross, although O'Farrell's "one-punch laws" aren't far off.

Recognising the problem goes beyond King's Cross and extending the entertainment precinct is a good move, but the definition of "risk-based licensing" could prove problematic.

Not to mention the 1:30am lockouts that are likely to result in more drunk people on the streets, at the mercy of a public transport system that's worse than Mumbai's. 

There was a mention of buses from King's Cross, but as night-time economy manager Suzie Matthews points out, nobody is actually using them.

There’s no denying that tougher restrictions have had the desired effect in Newcastle, but it doesn’t do anything to address why there are young men who think it’s cool to drink copious amounts and then go out looking for someone to bash.

Not only is laying on more restrictions every time a particularly violent assault makes the news not going to be effective in the long-term, but the media coverage these assaults get isn't always in proportion with actual statistics. 

It just feels like a band-aid solution for a problem that has its roots in social and cultural ideas about drinking and masculinity.

I like the idea of “coward punches” as opposed to “king-hits”, which as comedian and fellow local Jazz Twemlow observed, “sounds like an achievement you'd be proud to get on Mortal Kombat.”

I’ve also heard “chicken hits” proposed as a slightly catchier alternative, although it does sound a bit like a spicy snack food.

As Robert McEwen-father of assault victim Michael McEwen- observed, something like the "pinkie campaign" for alcohol violence could do wonders.

King’s Cross used to be Sydney’s bohemian district, attracting artists and poets with big ideas, not drunk 18-year olds and backpackers with goon bags.

What I’d really like to see here-and all over Sydney- is more late-night options that aren’t completely centred on getting drunk - more art, culture, live music, film, whatever.

Small bars and clubs that can be trusted to serve whatever they want and deal with troublemakers without government restrictions - Wollongong could be another city to take note of here.

More public transport, trains as well as buses, so people have less incentive to hang around bored while waiting for Nightriders.  

Most importantly, we need to find a way to demystify alcohol for young people so it isn't this cool, rebellious thing to do behind their parents' backs.

We need to stop sending young men the message that masculinity comes from an ability to inflict harm on others.

Article originally appeared on Local news from postcode 2011 (http://postcode2011.com.au/).
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