Negative perceptions of Gen Y’s drinking habits have been exacerbated in recent times by the portrayal of a string of savage “king hit” attacks in the news media. There have been calls to reform this term on the basis that it implicitly ascribes a false sense of nobility to the cowardly perpetrators of these often unprovoked one-punch attacks.
Chief among the high-profile cases was the tragic death of 18-year-old Thomas Kelly, who suffered a fatal blow to the head by Kieran Loveridge in Sydney’s Kings Cross in 2012. Loveridge’s four-year minimum jail sentence struck a nerve in the collective consciousness of the nation, sparking national outrage and setting off a wave of commentary over the perceived leniency of sentences handed down to violent offenders.
The nation’s anger was justifiably reignited when 18 year-old Daniel Christie suffered a similar fate on New Year’s Eve in almost the exact same spot where Kelly had died, with an unprovoked punch leaving him in critical condition for 11 days. Christie’s family ultimately made the decision to turn his life support off.
The NSW Coalition government is currently considering the adoption of a tougher “one-punch law” than those already implemented in Western Australia and the Northern Territory to specifically combat the “king hit” phenomenon. More recently, overwhelming pressure on Premier Barry O’Farrell to curb alcohol-related violence has also seen commitments to consider new measures to address “regulation of licensing”, policing “in and around entertainment precincts” and “penalties for those engaging in drug and alcohol related violence”.
As for the broader debate on alcohol-fuelled violence, young Australians have been relentlessly depicted as out-of-control, hedonistic party animals in sensationalist (and borderline defamatory) reports on current affairs programs, fuelling the homogenous grouping of this demographic as violent binge-drinkers.
Now, there’s nothing unique about the inter-generational blame game. Since time immemorial, the scapegoating of emerging generations for the ‘End of Civilisation As We Know It’ has been everybody’s favourite pastime. But amongst the typical self-righteous hand-wringing over Gen Y’s drinking habits, the issue of Australia’s broader drinking culture seems to have been conveniently glossed over.
Alcohol is – and has long been – an intrinsic part of Australian culture. Australians have a love of the bottle that long pre-dates the current youth generation (the majority of our colonists were Irish, after all). Regular drinking in an array of contexts – whether we’re socialising, celebrating, networking, or just unwinding at the end of the day – is not only socially acceptable, but so central to our lifestyles that our relationship with alcohol is a deeply embedded facet of our personal, social and national identities.
There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about the moderate, regular consumption of alcohol. In my view, reform to sentencing laws for manslaughter is required in order that there are harsher penalties for intoxicated perpetrators of gratuitous unprovoked street violence.
However, I’m skeptical about the impact of potentially-nanny statist regulatory proposals, which may have the effect of reducing the freedoms of the majority of moderate drinkers; hence the need to examine the reality of the situation.
Widespread attempts to pathologise Gen Y’s drinking behaviour distorts the fact that the majority of Australian youth aren’t king-hitting, drunken hooligans. The reality is that the recent series of high profile incidents have only created the illusion that “king hit” attacks are the most pressing issue facing contemporary Australian society.
In actuality, random acts of “alcohol-fuelled violence” are not reflective of a new phenomenon and are relatively rare, with a recent report The Sydney Morning Herald indicating that two-thirds of the 90 victims whose lives were claimed by “one-punch” incidents since 2000 actually knew their attackers. In light of the incidence of various other forms of violence – such as domestic violence, which claims at least one woman’s life every week, I’m inclined to wonder whether we’re guilty of selective outrage.
Recent data released by The Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing also demonstrates both that a steep decline in alcohol consumption has occurred over the past four years, and that alcohol-fuelled violence is down 12-35 percent. Attendances of 18 to 24 year-olds at emergency departments for acute alcohol problems are down 13 percent.
Additionally, the latest figures from the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research were released with the specific aim to clarify confusion over the nature of alcohol consumption among young people, brought about by alarmist media campaigning.
Media hysteria and the inevitable politics of alcohol-related issues have distorted these facts, creating the impression of a binge-drinking ‘crisis’ brought about by Australia’s ‘out-of-control’ youth. Alcohol-fuelled violence is an undoubtedly serious and persistent issue, but the reality – contrary to all the hype – is that Gen Y is not on the eve of alcohol-based destruction.