The Changing Face of Sydney: NSW's 'one-punch' and liquor law reforms

February 5, 2014


What’s your reaction to Sydney’s recent law reforms?

Love it loathe it, the ‘one-punch’ and liquor law reforms have been passed by the New South Wales Parliament and among these initiatives are a mandatory eight-year prison term for anyone fatally punching someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Following the death of two fatalities in Kings Cross and Bondi, these new laws are designed to combat alcohol-fuelled violence, but not everyone has welcomed the sweeping reforms.

Described by some as a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction, the tough new measures have been criticised for ignoring the real issues about excessive alcohol consumption in New South Wales.

But are late night venue goers the real victims? Or will the streets of Sydney be safer following the reforms?

Here are the top five things you need to know about Barry O’Farrell’s new ‘one-punch’ laws.

1. On the spot fines for disorderly behaviour are increased from $200 to $1,100.

If police consider you to be a nuisance, overly intoxicated or ‘need to be moved on’, this heavy fine could be heading your way.

2. Police now have powers to immediately ban ‘troublemakers’ from Sydney’s CBD/Kings Cross.

This ban applies to someone charged with an alcohol-related violent offence or anyone who has been issued with three temporary banning orders within the last 12 months.

3. Penalty for possession of steroids increased from two to 25 years.

Getting caught with this illegal weight lifting supplement ensures that the only thing ‘pumped up’…will be your jail time.

4. Mandatory 1.30am lockout for licensed premises.

These bans will apply to licensed premises across the Sydney CBD entertainment precinct and spans from Darling Harbour to Kings Cross.

5. Drinks will not be served after 3.00am.

All alcohol will be cut off after 3.00am with premises allowed to remain open. Casinos, restaurants and tourist accommodation facilities will be exempt from the laws.

6. Wine and beer connoisseurs will have to think ahead.

Those preferring to avoid the fuss of the town and have a quiet drink at home will need to plan ahead. Liquor shops will be closed at 10pm across the state under the new reforms.

7. Mandatory minimum sentencing.

The biggest piece of legislation, and arguably the most hotly contested, involves the mandatory minimum sentencing of eight years to anyone convicted in court of landing a fatal blow whilst under the influence of alcohol. This piece of legislation has thrown up some questions for Sydney’s criminal lawyers, who fear that many defendants will be thrown under the bus, so to speak, when it comes to the new reforms.

In an article by the Sydney Morning Herald, chair of the criminal law committee of the NSW Law Society, Pauline Wright, expressed her concerns for the severity of O’Farrell’s laws. Adding to the conversation, Wright called out the law’s inability for judges or magistrates to take into consideration the mental health issues or cognitive capacity of the accused.

Furthermore, the minimum 8 year sentencing can appear harsh in comparison to the NSW median minimum sentencing for homicide which was 8.5 years in 2012, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The SMH shares this thought-provoking scenario: “An 18-year-old with no criminal record is drinking in a bar when a drunken stranger hurls an insult at his girlfriend. After further taunts, the young man hits the stranger, who trips, hits his head on the edge of the bar and dies.”

Under the new laws this man, if convicted, will serve a minimum eight years in prison.

”Quite often, if the injury didn’t end up being serious it wouldn’t even be reported. It’s just the fact of [the victim] falling awkwardly and there was something sharp they hit their head on,” said Pauline wright to SMH.

So will these laws change violent attitudes in New South Wales or do they border on draconian nanny-state nonsense?

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