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Special series - Punch Drunk, part one: Civic remains a hotbed of alcohol-fuelled violence


Despite the efforts of police and politicians, Civic remains a hotbed of alcohol-fuelled violence. Today, in the first part of a special series, Christopher Knaus reports on how supposedly tough measures introduced three years ago as part of a promised crackdown have failed to reduce the high level of violence in the city's heart.

ACT police cordon off a section of Northbourne Avenue and London Circuit.

ACT police cordon off a section of Northbourne Avenue and London Circuit. Photo: Jenna Clarke

The ACT government's tough new liquor laws have failed to cut drunken violence in Civic, Canberra's roughest and most popular nightclub district.

More than 600 alcohol-related assaults have occurred in the city centre since the introduction of the government's reforms in December 2010 - at least one every two days.

That is despite the government giving tough powers to regulators and police to crack down on punters, pubs, nightclubs, bars and sports clubs doing the wrong thing.

A new risk-based fee system was also introduced, dramatically increasing the cost of liquor licences for Canberra venues deemed to pose the most danger to the public.

A specialist police squad was created to work alongside officers from City Beat - the two teams have since merged - to tackle alcohol-related crime in Civic.

Three years later, the reforms are being publicly praised by Attorney-General Simon Corbell as a success.

His government has recently been handed a report by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, which found the risk-based liquor licensing scheme has coincided with a 25 per cent reduction in all alcohol-related offences across the ACT, a statistic which includes suburban areas with few licensed venues.

The study commends the government's approach to liquor licensing, and said there was a ''strong case'' for its continuation and wider application.

But police data reveals that in Civic, the territory's largest and by far the most violent nightclub district, the reforms have had no impact since December 2010.

The figures show the number of reported alcohol-related assaults in the city centre, both in its public places and licensed venues, has increased.

Civic has the highest density of licensed venues in Canberra, and should have been the biggest beneficiary of any change stemming from the liquor reforms.

Alcohol-related crime in the city is also the worst of any location in the ACT, seeing seven times more offences than Kingston, Manuka, and Griffith combined, and four times more than the next worst suburb of Belconnen.

Despite their lack of impact in Civic, the government still believes its reforms have been a success, preferring to cite the territory-wide drop in alcohol-related crime.

"The liquor reforms are a success because we've seen a reduction in the level of alcohol-related offences right across the city," Mr Corbell said.

"Alcohol-related offences are down, public order offences are down, assaults are down, these are good results and demonstrate the effect of a range of measures, including the liquor licensing reforms."

But the opposition has taken a different view, with leader Jeremy Hanson describing the failure to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence in Civic as "disturbing".

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the problem of drunken violence in the ACT is as bad if not worse than other states.

The ACT has the highest number of physical assault victims per capita in the country, a rate which is well above the national average and has almost doubled between 2008-09 and 2011-12.

The ABS data shows a majority of assault victims nationwide said alcohol played a part in their attacks.

Behind those numbers are disturbing stories of gratuitous violence, of unprovoked king-hits and the punching and stomping of the heads of unconscious victims.

The issue is set for further public debate, as the ACT government conducts its two-year review of the effectiveness of the 2010 reforms.

That process is likely to draw strong views about their impacts - positive or otherwise - from a host of players, including hotel lobby groups, alcohol and drug researchers, victims, health workers, police representatives and politicians.

The assessment of the ACT liquor laws and a spate of recent alcohol-related violent incidents in the city coincides with an outpouring of anger and calls for decisive government action over the high-profile Thomas Kelly case.

The Sydney teenager died after being king-hit without provocation in Kings Cross.

Just last week, hundreds rallied in Sydney's CBD to denounce alcohol-fuelled violence and call for tougher penalties for perpetrators.

The NSW government has already announced its plans for a new offence under so-called "one-punch laws", but the opposition is pressuring it to bring a scheme to Kings Cross similar to that of Newcastle, where revellers face a 1am lockout.

In the ACT, police earlier this month went public with details about a night of violence in Civic, in which one man was punched and kicked in the head, and then left lying unconscious on the street.

That came just before a man was found guilty for a separate king-hit case involving a drunk Irish tourist who was left with brain damage when he was attacked in Civic in 2011.

The failure to reduce violence in Civic has already prompted criticism from the opposition that the new liquor scheme is simply not working.

"The statistics are disturbing, they show the government's policies have been failing," Mr Hanson said.

"Violence in Civic is a real concern for me, I think that it's a deterrent for people to go out and enjoy a night out.''


  • There is only one solution to stop these drunken yahoos - cut the operating hours of pubs and clubs in Civic. These days it almost seems a right of passage to get drunk and start a fight. So the only way to stop these people getting so drunk is to send them home early so they can trash their own property instead of lumping the taxpayer with massive repair bills.

    Date and time
    December 02, 2013, 8:46AM
    • Wrong Solution mate. MFL hit the nail on the head. Thugs will be thugs regardless of alcohol intake. Here they arent scared of the repercussions of their actions. I've spent a bit of time in Germany recently. You can buy a beer from a vendor in a street. You can buy a beer from a stall at most train stations. I even bought a beer one day from a chemist. You can walk around the streets and enjoy your beer, big glass bottle in hand and take in the sights, pretty much any time of the day as well. The only issue i had was consuming it before it warmed (600ml+). There is next to no restrictions on when and where you can consume alcohol. But i saw zero drunken punchups whilst there and i went out in the evenings plenty of times. The difference between there and here was here you get loaded, think your a tough guy and try to punch on with whoever looks at you sideways. You can try the same thing there, if your game, and see what happens to you. I saw plenty of German police there and they dont muck about. Neither do the German courts. No slaps on the wrists. The tough guy factor is dramatically reduced when there is zero tollerance to drunken violence. Thats what we need here.

      Date and time
      December 02, 2013, 10:00AM
    • Interesting comparison. The attifute here is that unless you're killed, it's almost impossible to persecute these thugs -- so they don't bother to do so.

      Date and time
      December 02, 2013, 10:56AM
  • I have been drinking in pubs and clubs, some "rougher" than any in the ACT, for over 50 years and have never been in any altercation. I have observed many who started fights and they have all been people who are inherently violent whether they are drunk or sober. The issue is not drunks who become violent but thugs who become drunk; tackle those who are fundamentally violent people and you will reduce the problem to negligible proportions without putting restrictions on people who do not cause problems. Stop pandering to the neo-prohibitionists.

    Date and time
    December 02, 2013, 8:46AM
    • Cut hours will just drive kids to parks and other areas to drink, just like they do now to "load up" before they go to town. Kids aren't get waxed at these clubs where it is $8 a beer, but at home, a park, somewhere else where. The issue is societal, where blokes will kick someone in the head while on the ground, or jump on them, cheap shot king hit and so on, that isn’t an alcohol issue but a growing malaise within society.

      Top Up
      Date and time
      December 02, 2013, 9:27AM
      • This is what happens when you don’t discipline children from Day 1... they grow to think they are all powerful and that they are untouchable... They grow up learning there is no consequence for their actions other than the "Naughty corner" which they know is only temporary!!!....Do-gooders have your say....???

        Date and time
        December 02, 2013, 9:28AM
        • Totally agree. Its the generation of parenting that failed and the so called experts have now admitted they got it wrong. We now have entitled, narcissistic, selfish sociopaths everywhere, thinking they will do whatever they want whenever they want without consequences. I work with several of them, they just don't get it. Then they get a skin full and punch on. I also blame the rise in steroids and the obsession with body image that goes with it. so now we have sociopathic steroid using beefcakes. Just add alcohol and watch it unfold.

          Date and time
          December 02, 2013, 10:45AM
        • Agreed, as parents of this generation we are failing. Morality, ethics, standards and self discipline are all taught in the home.....well they used to. These days kids have so many rights and so many organisations ready to haul the parents over he coals if they are too harsh. You couldn't "divorce" your parents back in my day, and even less so in my fathers day. Each generation gets softer and lowers the expectations. Now we are reaping the the rewards through the inhibition of alcohol. @MFL also hit the nail on the head - these kids are violent and disrespectful at home so its no surprise that we are seeing such high levels of it out on the streets at night.

          What's the solution? The police are powerless, the parents are powerless, who's going to save us? Give the power back to authority to operate as harshly as is needed to make this sort of behaviour a second thought rather than a social requirement by these hooligans.

          Date and time
          December 02, 2013, 2:25PM
      • A big problem is the men that drink to many sugar charged shiela's drinks instead being men and drinking beer.

        Date and time
        December 02, 2013, 9:37AM
        • You're right about men drinking those sugary sheila drinks, they even make men grow man-boobs.

          dusty can't log in
          Date and time
          December 02, 2013, 2:03PM

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