Outraged by unprovoked "king hit" killings, increased rates of alcohol-fuelled violence and soaring hospital admissions, Australians have finally had enough.
Pushed by public anger and dire warnings of more social harm to come, state governments are acting to clamp down on binge-drinking and an alcohol culture that has turned major cities into ugly and frightening places. Today, after riot police turned out to suppress two more mass brawls in downtown Sydney over the weekend, New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell will announce a new package of measures to clamp down on the violence.
Queensland is also considering a range of proposals and has asked young people for their ideas in a bid to find solutions that have so far evaded authorities across the nation. Other states face similar problems.
NSW introduced new moves after 18-year-old Thomas Kelly was killed by a king hit in Sydney in 2012. But there have been no real gains, and the New Year's Eve murder of Daniel Christie - following a series of other serious but non-fatal attacks - turned up the heat.
The Greens are calling for a sweeping Senate inquiry into the violence. It wants the Government to consider raising the price of alcohol as a key measure. The Australian Medical Association, the National Council on Drugs and other groups have backed the proposal.
The Government, which has announced a national inquiry into alcohol-related violence in indigenous communities, has not indicated whether it would support a far broader review. But Prime Minister Tony Abbott has expressed his alarm at the "appalling" violence of young Australians' binge-drinking culture.
Researchers warn that booze-fired violence is increasing. Alcohol-related hospitalisations have increased, despite virtually no change in the amount of alcohol consumed over the past decade. Victorian research has reported steep spikes in problems associated with alcohol abuse, including emergency hospital admissions, assaults and domestic violence.
A survey by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education found that 67 per cent of NSW residents feared alcohol-related violence and felt "very unsafe" in Sydney at night. More than 70 per cent supported the "Newcastle solution" of tighter restrictions on trading hours and alcohol sales introduced by the port city north of Sydney because of night-time violence in pubs and on the streets.
The move is supported by medical and other professional groups and by the NSW Opposition. The NSW Cabinet had also earlier considered a risk-based licensing scheme operating in some other states, under which pubs, clubs and bars pay fees based on their compliance with licensing laws, their location and trading hours.
O'Farrell said yesterday that the Cabinet was considering improved licensing, increased police resources, tougher penalties for people committing crimes under the influence of booze or drugs, and means of changing the drinking culture. "There is no simple, single solution to tackle effectively the problem of alcohol and drug-fuelled violence [but] I'm confident the package ... addresses community concerns and will make a difference."
In Queensland, Premier Campbell Newman is taking a different tack, aimed at violent drunks rather that the premises that serve them. His Government is already studying the recommendations of an expert panel, and now wants input from young people, including their choice between tougher penalties for drunken offender or earlier closing times. "The Government has no desire to be a bunch of wowsers. The Government wants this to be a wonderful state where you can enjoy a great night out."