Violent and disorderly drunks in New South Wales will face tough new mandatory jail sentences in a package of measures to battle binge drinking which will also see Sydney's pubs, bars and clubs close earlier.
The measures announced by Premier Barry O'Farrell yesterday also hand police new powers to test for alcohol and drugs and ban troublemakers from Kings Cross and the city's central business district.
The State Parliament will be recalled next week to debate enabling legislation, which O'Farrell hopes to have in place by the end of the month.
O'Farrell is expecting the moves to be opposed in full or part by a range of interest groups but said that the violence on city streets and in other parts of the state demanded strong action.
"We will do whatever it takes to get the message through to people across NSW that it is no longer acceptable to go out and drink yourself stupid, take illicit substances, start fights, 'coward punch' [king hit] people or engage in other assaults thinking you will get away with it. The new measures are tough and I make no apologies for that."
Alcohol-fuelled violence and other problems have been rising across Australia, despite stagnant per capita consumption levels for the past decade, pushing state governments to introduce steadily tougher laws to curb binge drinking.
O'Farrell has been under growing pressure to act, despite a number of new laws after the king-hit death of teenager Thomas Kelly and, on New Year's Eve, Daniel Christie.
Outrage was further fuelled when the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions reduced a murder charge against Kelly's killer Kieran Loveridge to manslaughter in exchange for a guilty plea. Loveridge was sentenced in November to six years' jail, with a four-year non-parole period.
Under O'Farrell's proposed new laws, someone who fatally assaults another person with one punch will be sentenced to a mandatory eight years in jail, with a maximum sentence of 20 years. Based on similar laws in Western Australia, the 20-year maximum is five years less than the maximum for manslaughter, but avoids the difficulty of proving the assailant knew his punch would be fatal required for a murder conviction. The maximum will be 25 years where drugs and alcohol are involved.
Maximum mandatory sentences for other booze-fuelled offences will also be imposed. Higher on-the-spot fines will be imposed for lesser offences, with penalties of up to A$1100 for disorderly behaviour and A$500 for offensive behaviour or language. The maximum sentence for possession of steroids will rise to 25 years.
O'Farrell's measures will include 10pm closing for bottle shops throughout NSW, and a 1.30am ban on new drinkers at venues within an expanded CBD precinct which extends from Kings Cross to The Rocks and Darling Harbour. All alcohol sales inside clubs and bars will end at 3am. Small bars serving up to 60 people, tourist hotels, casinos and restaurants will be exempt.
Licensing fees will also be charged according to risk factors that include late trading hours, size and location.
Planned legal changes
Proposed minimum jail sentences for drunken assaults:
*One-punch fatal assault (new offence): eight years.
*Reckless grievous bodily harm in company: five years.
*Sexual assault: five years.
*Reckless grievous bodily harm: four years.
*Reckless wounding in company: four years.
*Affray: four years.
*Reckless wounding: three years.
*Assault causing actual bodily harm in company: three years.
*Assault occasioning actual bodily harm: two years.
*Assault against police officers in execution of duty (not during a public disorder): two years.
*Maximum sentence for drug or alcohol-fuelled fatal one-punch assaults set at 25 years, maximum sentences for other assaults to be increased by two years where drugs and alcohol are involved.
What they said ...
"The organisation wholeheartedly welcomes tougher sentencing for thugs ... We do not believe tens of thousands of people will stay in licensed premises past 3am once alcohol is no longer served, but will instead be out on the streets looking for a way home. The Government will need to address this new issue. Lockouts and closures in the Sydney city centre will also have an undeniable impact on the night-time economy."
The NSW branch of the Australian Hotels Association
"This is a big win for community safety. People in Sydney should be able to go out and enjoy themselves without finishing up in the ICU."
Gerard Hayes of the Last Drinks alliance, which represents emergency workers.
"Barry O'Farrell's announcement feels like 9/11! I'm in shock. The announcement today will not change the youth drinking culture. Punishing the majority for the actions of a few morons!"
Kings Cross nightclub owner John Ibrahim on Twitter
"Every weekend we are forced to pick up the pieces, phone parents and even deal with becoming the victims of violence and abuse ourselves. Now we see the Government taking real action in dealing with alcohol-related violence."
Scott Weber, president of the Police Association of NSW
"Every weekend, hospitals are filled with people who have sustained preventable injuries as a result of alcohol-fuelled attacks or from accidents while drunk."
Australian Medical Association (NSW) president Brian Owler
"It's bittersweet to know that reform will come in shortly, but it's also still terrible for us as a family to get through without Thomas every day. We want to thank the premier for making these changes,"
Ralph Kelly, father of king-hit victim Thomas Kelly
"I want to see the detail of those laws, but what I will say is that I understand that there is a mandate and an expectation from the community to see laws like this pass the Parliament ... this should be above politics."
NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson