ACT News

Government told to show leadership after one-punch attack

Tough measures are needed to reduce violent acts, alcohol safety campaigners say.

Alcohol safety campaigners have accused the ACT government of taking too long to introduce tough measures to prevent violent attacks in the city, including 1am lockouts and restricted trading hours.

The calls come after a sickening one-punch attack outside a Civic convenience store around 3am on New Year's Day, which left a 20-year-old Braddon man unconscious with a shattered jaw requiring emergency surgery.

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One-punch attack in Civic on New Year's in Canberra

CCTV footage shows one-punch attack in Civic on New Year's in Canberra. Warning: Graphic content.

On Wednesday, the father of 18-year-old Cole Miller choked back tears while speaking at the funeral of his son, who died after a one-punch attack in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley.

The violent attacks have renewed debate about liquor laws across the country and the prospect of tougher regulations in the ACT.

Alcohol safety campaigners have accused the ACT government of taking too long to act.
Alcohol safety campaigners have accused the ACT government of taking too long to act. Photo: Andrew Quilty

Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education chief executive Michael Thorn said the ACT government needed to show leadership and introduce reforms based on community consultation.  

"It's well and truly time the ACT took decisive action to prevent alcohol-fuelled violence," he said. "Let's not wait for the next tragedy to hit the headlines."

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"If the government genuinely wants to prevent alcohol harms, its priority must be to crack down on reckless discounting and promotion and reduce late night trading hours by introducing a 3am close and 1am one-way-door for licensed venues …"

The government commenced a review of the Liquor ACT 2010 in September 2013 but it remains a work in progress, despite numerous rounds of community engagement and discussion papers.

In an opinion piece published by The Canberra Times on Thursday, Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the government had already proved its commitment to alcohol reform and would implement evidence-based changes.

"Law reform should be conducted in a measured, evidence-based manner, not fuelled by public outrage," he said.

"Coward punches are often fuelled by alcohol and it is thus crucial that we manage the consumption of alcohol in our community in a way that reduces and prevents alcohol-related violence and other harms." 

In July last year, the ACT government sought consultation on a range of possible measures to reduce violence in the city including lockouts, minimum prices for alcohol and earlier closing times.

More than 30 submissions were received, including a response by the ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance that welcomed 1am lockouts. The Alliance represents 47 organisations, including the ACT Australian Medical Association.

"These, together with the research and evidence available about what works to reduce alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour, will inform the government's decision about further changes to strengthen the community safety focus of our liquor laws," Mr Corbell said.

Mr Thorn described the government's consultation as "admirable" but insisted the risk of alcohol harms had increased in the ACT and now demanded action.

"Alcohol is responsible for more than 6700 hospital emergency department presentations in the ACT every year," he said. "That's 18 people a day."

"The ACT also averages around 95 drink and drug driving offences and a further 85 alcohol-related offences are reported to police each month."

Both Canberra and Calvary hospitals have reported serious injuries including skull fractures, bleeding to the brain and permanent brain injury.

Currently, the standard hours for bars and clubs are 7am till midnight although they can apply to stay open longer, with 89 operating after midnight. Forty-eight are open after 3am, closing as late as 5am, many of them in the city. 

In a journal article published on Thursday, University of Newcastle academic Kypros Kypri said politicians had "a strong evidence base to guide action", including restrictions on the density and trading hours of bars and nightclubs. 

Mr Thorn said he was not surprised the footage of the one-punch attack in the city prompted outcry from concerned Canberrans.

"There is clear consensus: we can, and should, be doing much more to prevent this alcohol-fuelled violence," he said. "The current system is clearly not adequately mitigating the harms from alcohol."