There is an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu surrounding the sickening, senseless and ultimately fatal attack on 18-year-old Queenslander Cole Miller.
As we collectively mourn the loss of another young Australian, an innocent victim of a coward punch, we are reminded of the deaths and the injuries of so many others, as a result of alcohol related violence on our streets. We mourned in 2012, following the death of 18 year old Thomas Kelly from an unprovoked attack in Kings Cross. We did so again just over a year later, when Daniel Christie fell victim to a coward punch on New Year’s Eve, also in Kings Cross.
These horrific attacks are not confined to our major cities either. Barely days ago, a pub manager in Mt Isa, Melissa Abdoo, was fortunate to survive another unprovoked alcohol related assault.
"Research indicates that alcohol is implicated in up to half of all domestic violence in Australia."
We cannot pretend that these violent incidents are isolated cases, nor can we ignore the pervasiveness of alcohol misuse in relation to violence and physical assaults. A 2013 survey suggested that 1.7 million Australians were physically abused by someone under the influence of alcohol over 12 months. Alcohol is also linked to one in eight deaths of young people under 25.
Nor should we be mistaken that alcohol related violence is only on our streets late at night, or near pubs and clubs. The problem is greater than that. In fact, recent research indicates that alcohol is implicated in up to half of all domestic violence in Australia. This is often a silent suffering that happens behind closed doors and rarely makes the headlines.
Tackling violence in our community requires multiple strategies. More policing in high risk precincts can help, but it is clear that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem. Tougher sentencing for perpetrators of violent assaults is also not enough on its own. We have to address the underlying causes, one of which is our alcohol culture where binge drinking is still normalised.
Drug and alcohol education programs aimed at young people, such as those provided by Life Education, are an important starting point, because we must invest in our next generation of young Australians. There are encouraging signs in recent statistics showing a decline in binge drinking among 14-17 year olds, along with an increase in young people who are choosing to abstain from alcohol all together, but greater investment in education is needed.
"Violence or aggression, both physical and verbal, is unacceptable, with or without alcohol."
Reducing harm by reducing the hours where alcohol is available in the early hours of the morning in pubs and clubs is another strategy that makes sense. Where this has already been implemented, in Newcastle and more recently in Kings Cross, the experience suggests that there has been a marked decline in alcohol related assaults.
A review of the tax on alcohol products along with increasing the restrictions on alcohol advertising are also strategies to consider. However, there is a bigger issue here than alcohol and how we consume it. Violence or aggression, both physical and verbal, is unacceptable, with or without alcohol. Intoxication is no excuse.
So while our relationship with alcohol needs to improve, so does the way in which we relate to one another, and the respect that we show to another human being. There is an underlying macho culture that is still evident in our community, and which manifests itself in those who resort easily to physical aggression, both on our streets and within relationships in the home.
This is a culture that must also be tackled if we are to get to the root cause of violence in our society.
Michael Fawsitt is the Life Education Queensland chief executive officer. Life Education is a health promotion charity and the largest nonprofit provider of drug and health education to children and young people.