Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has chosen the anniversary of her first year in office to launch a do-or-die assault on binge drinking.
She has staked her leadership of a minority Labor government on persuading crossbench MPs to pass lockout laws to stop the service of alcohol in pubs and clubs after 2am.
This week’s vote will be a cliffhanger, with Palaszczuk desperate to secure the vote of three crossbenchers: Billy Gordon, the former ALP, now independent, MP for Cook (Cape York), and Katter’s Australian Party MPs Robbie Katter, from Mount Isa, and Shane Knuth, from Dalrymple, formerly Charters Towers.
The three MPs represent north Queensland constituencies that are notorious for hard drinking, including after-hours drinking, underage drinking, binge drinking, alcohol-fuelled fights, domestic violence, drink-driving, drink-related road accidents and injured drunks crowding hospital casualty departments.
Palaszczuk is using the alarming increase in grog-related violence in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley and Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast to gather support for her policy. Both are notorious for cowardly “one-punch” assaults and street brawling.
The ALP’s backroom strategists, pollsters and image-makers have decided that it’s time to lead Queenslanders in a more socially sensitive direction and away from the barbarous behaviour associated with the state’s century-old beer and rum culture.
Her reform measure is, by and large, supported by women -- who bear the brunt of excessive alcohol consumption -- while men are either indifferent or fiercely opposed. The same division is true in the ranks of the ALP itself, and there is a north Queensland/south Queensland divide as well.
Ranged against Palaszczuk’s government is a formidable coalition of interest groups led by the opposition LNP, breweries, pubs and registered clubs, casinos, betting agencies, the NRL, racing industries and advertising firms.
Instead of restricting hours, a simpler way would be to hold publicans, bar licensees and nightclub owners accountable. If they serve drunks, their venues would be closed down for days, weeks or months according to the number of repeat offences they commit.
However, this publicly supportable policy is not favoured by the police in Queensland (or NSW, for that matter).
Cops want to control the sale of alcohol and licensing. If the enforcement of liquor laws passed to individual licensees, bar staff and private security guards, the police would lose their grip on a traditional source of graft and corruption.
What would happen to police Christmas parties in Queensland if the police couldn’t rely on free grog, bottles of whisky and cartons of beer? It doesn’t bear thinking about: cops would have to pay for booze out of their own pockets!
The liquor industry has its claws deep into the LNP. Between 2011 and 2014 it donated about $375,000 during the merger between the Queensland Nationals and Liberals to form the LNP.
“We need to be asking what exactly is that money buying and what does industry expect for its largesse,” said the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education chief executive Michael Thorn.
This week’s government-sponsored advertising blitz will call on Queensland voters to contact MPs demanding they support the proposed bill. While Palaszczuk is rallying public support through advertising and social media, she has scheduled private meetings with maverick crossbenchers Gordon, Katter and Knuth, to attempt some horse-trading on their pet policies.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned Brisbane Courier-Mail is playing a dual role, with one half of its editorial coverage supporting the contentious legislation and the other half damning it.
Palaszczuk has enlisted NSW Mike Baird as an ally in her campaign after he said his government’s lockout laws had resulted in a 42.2% drop in alcohol-related assaults in Sydney’s CBD and a 60% drop in the notorious one-punch capital of Kings Cross.
“Good to see the NSW Liberal Premier backs action on alcohol fuelled violence,” Palaszczuk tweeted.
In fact, the Baird government is in the process of dismantling its tough lockout laws.
Last week Police Minister and Deputy Premier Troy Grant, a former police inspector, appointed Queenslander Ian Callinan QC to head an inquiry into NSW 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks legislation introduced in 2014 amid tabloid hysteria.
Callinan, who represented the Queensland government at the Fitzgerald inquiry into police corruption, was appointed to the High Court of Australia by prime minister John Howard in 1998.
Grant told the media:
“The Callinan review will provide an independent, open and transparent assessment of the state’s liquor laws, focusing on the facts, to advise the NSW government on the future of these laws in NSW.
“I want to make it clear it does not have a foregone conclusion -- it will be guided by the evidence and the experiences of the people of Sydney and NSW.”
And it will also be guided by the Coalition’s re-election prospects at the next state election in March 2019, when support from companies associated with the alcohol, catering, tourism, entertainment, sport, travel, accommodation, wagering and casino industries will be at a premium.
While the Coalition in NSW is having second thoughts about the efficacy of limited prohibition, Palaszczuk is driving full speed ahead as if her premiership depended on it. Maybe it does.
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