Canberra is taking a very different course to Sydney in the nationwide fight against early-morning, alcohol-fuelled violence around inner-city nightclubs.
While both the NSW and ACT governments are shaking up licensing laws, the ACT has steadfastly refused to copy NSW in introducing mandatory minimum sentences for one-punch assaults that lead to death.
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said, “We know that increasing penalties does not prevent violence. People don't think about the penalty they're going to get when they're drunk and punch somebody."
Mr Corbell has instead unveiled a revamp of liquor licensing laws that could bring earlier closing and/or the increasing of some fees for nightclub owners by up to 500 per cent.
“Fee increases for venues that choose to stay open when there is the greatest risk to public safety would be used to pay for up to 20 additional police officers and other public-safety resources,” he said.
The proposals are:
The Government’s White Paper, available at www.justice.act.gov.au, also contains proposals to significantly reduce some fees and cut red tape to encourage more restaurants, cafes and small bars.
Mr Corbell said, “Smaller venues are generally associated with less alcohol-related violence and antisocial behaviour.
“Having a greater number of these smaller venues creates diversity in our nightlife and gives Canberrans and visitors more options for going out in a safer environment late at night.”
ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson has proposed an exposure draft of a Bill with new types of offences and sentences related to the unprovoked, serious criminal assaults known as "coward's punch" attacks.
He said anyone found guilty of serious one- punch attacks causing death should face up to 25 years in jail. NSW has legislated a minimum mandatory eight-year prison sentence for the so-called one-punch attacks.
The ACT Opposition plan would see changes to the Crimes Act, including the creation of a new aggravated offence to deal with one-punch attacks and tougher penalties for grievous bodily harm, and affray.
Mr Hanson, the Liberal Party leader, said he'd take the issue to this year's ACT election if the Labor Government or Greens Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury, didn't support it.
The current ACT Legislative Assembly has eight Labor and eight Liberal members with Mr Rattenbury, the lone Green, in an alliance with Labor in a 17-member parliament drawn from three electorates. In October, electors are to return 25 members from five seats on widely redrawn boundaries in an expanded parliament.
Mr Corbell has maintained his opposition to mandatory sentencing for one-punch assaults and Mr Rattenbury has echoed that position.
ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner John Hinchey told The Canberra Times, "I think the Opposition has correctly judged that the community has reached a level of complete intolerance to the level of violence we have seen with these coward's punches.
"In addition to any legislative reform that is to be considered in detail is the need for the community to also shift the culture around violence, the idea of what it is to be male, and a regulatory response to our use of alcohol in and around licensed premises …
"We need to ensure there is a sense of safety at night in these areas and that is certainly not the case under the current regulatory framework.
"Evidence suggests restrictions on alcohol sales, restricting density of licensed venues and making a high-profile presence of police have been shown to reduce alcohol-related violence.
"I think it's time the ACT progressed its liquor reforms which have been on the table for the past year. We need to begin treating this issue urgently before someone else is injured or killed.”
In the current environment, those charged with offences of violence around nightclubs in the early hours of weekend mornings can expect very close scrutiny from police and when they come before the courts.
If you find yourself in this situation, you should consult a lawyer who specialises in criminal matters. The team at Armstrong Legal deal only in criminal and traffic law in the ACT, and surrounding NSW.