Drink Tank

MPs voting on lockout laws should be guided by conscience and not the alcohol industry

This is an open letter to the 46 Opposition and crossbench Members of Queensland’s Legislative Assembly.

Members, next week when the House reconvenes, you will likely consider the Government’s Bill to cease alcohol sales in pubs and clubs at 2am, or 3am if a 1am “lockout” provision is granted.

Because opposition to reform is driven by some very rich and powerful interests, we know this is no ordinary Bill. But we also know these are extraordinary times.

After the indescribably tragic death of young Cole Miller just weeks ago (sickeningly similar to drunken, fatal attacks on teens Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie in Sydney in recent years), not to mention the thousands of broken noses, slashed faces and lost teeth that go unreported, Queensland stands at a crossroads.

Either you, as legislators, move forward by accepting the scientific evidence and voting to make Queensland streets safer, or you take us back to a grim past where late-night service of alcohol has condemned so many to a life of misery.

Fortuitously, those crossroads are well signposted. Rarely has there been so much debate around a single piece of social policy; rarely have so many of us – three quarters of all voters want tougher alcohol laws – demanded immediate change.

And rarely has our parliament been so precariously balanced along party lines.

That means the next sitting weeks offer a rare triple opportunity: to debate a high-profile issue close to voters’ hearts, and thresh out the details away from party politics.

Members of the Opposition, we understand that you must regularly challenge the government of the day.

We also get your need for nifty sound bites in the news media so you can sell a very different political product.

But representing Her Majesty’s Opposition does not compel you to oppose everything, no matter how rational or warranted, just for opposition’s sake. There comes a time when public interest must overtake political interest. And debate over public safety – the very first duty of any legislature – is one of those times.

Opposition Members, we expect you to question the Government’s motives. But we also expect you to do so fairly and justly without smokescreens and half-truths. But the claim of a lack of evidence for the effectiveness of “lockout” laws is one such smokescreen – an opportunistic bit of opposition for political reasons at the cost of science and public safety.

Opposition and crossbench Members, you could not have attained your positions if you were not rational, intelligent beings.

We now appeal to that reason and intelligence and implore you to acknowledge that stricter alcohol laws are the reason violence has plummeted in Sydney and Newcastle. We ask you to acknowledge, as New South Wales Premier Mike Baird has, that every hour of reduced alcohol trading produces a 20 per cent decline in assaults.

We also implore you to abandon your usual excuses for opposing reform. We no longer believe arguments about “personal responsibility” when we know heavily intoxicated teens are incapable of rational thought.

We also reject claims of “lost jobs” when we know small cafes and restaurants in New South Wales have grown in numbers despite alcohol restrictions. And we laugh at suggestions of “lost personal freedoms” when we know sober patrons allow each other the freedom to walk the streets in safety.

But Members, you are right about the need for cultural change. But attitudinal shifts do not occur spontaneously. They must be initiated by legal frameworks.

Does anyone seriously believe our once-cavalier attitudes to seatbelts and drink-driving would have changed without state parliaments voting to induce that change?

Regardless of the fate of this Bill, we ask all Members to work with interstate and federal colleagues to end alcohol advertising.

With research showing children, years before their legal majority, forming identities from advertising around alcohol consumption, we can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars by preventing addiction and violence before these evils arise.

Members, by all means consult with a liquor lobby eager to donate millions of dollars. But also speak with surgeons, police, paramedics, parents and assault victims who know that allowing drunk young men and women to purchase yet more alcohol at 3am benefits no one except a powerful alcohol industry.

Members, be steered not only by science and reason. Let your conscience also guide you.

This article was first published in The Courier Mail, 11 February 2016. Pic: Mark Calleja

Paul Williams

Dr Paul Williams is a senior lecturer at Griffith University’s School of Humanities and columnist for The Courier Mail.


Join our mailing list