Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New Age Puritanism

There’s no doubt that there are some serious issues relating to alcohol in the community, both with alcohol related violence and the health effects of binge drinking. We have seen the evidence of increased antisocial behavior in certain environments, along with the evidence of increased admissions to hospital emergency departments. We have also seen high profile sports personalities getting themselves into trouble for a range of matters and it always seems that alcohol is somehow involved. It’s no surprise that there has been an expectation on the government to do something about these problems.

Responsible service of alcohol laws have been with us for quite some years now, and for the most part seem to work reasonably well. But still we have experienced these problems with antisocial behavior. More recently the federal government announced that it was determined to counter the effects of binge drinking through education campaigns and increased taxes. The state government has taken further steps to fight the violence through more and more stringent regulations over how alcohol is served, while at the same time increasing police powers to deal with intoxicated people.

Recently introduced regulations requiring alcohol to be served in plastic after midnight in designated locations have now resulted in Police prosecuting a club manager who wasn’t even there when a half size champagne bottle was inadvertently handed over to a customer. As soon as the mistake was discovered a duty manager attempted to recover the bottle and rectify the matter, only to find that the customer was actually an undercover police officer. The club manager who was ultimately convicted and now has a criminal record wasn’t even there at the time, but was at home asleep in bed. It might be the law, but it isn’t right and it isn’t fair.

In another case, a rugby league supporter was evicted from a club by another undercover police officer because he was supposedly intoxicated. This was determined on the basis that he gave a “high five” to his friend. Somehow the fact that he was a Wests Tigers supporter watching the Tigers actually win a game was not considered to be sufficient motivation for exuberance. Instead he was evicted and the club prosecuted for serving alcohol to an intoxicated person. This is just ridiculous, and it amounts to making it illegal to have fun.

Is it possible that we are entering a new age of Puritanism? While it remains legal to have a drink, it is illegal to have too many. It is illegal to sell a drink to someone who has already had too many. It is illegal to serve a drink in glass under certain circumstances, but it would be seen to be an unacceptable standard of service in others. Imagine being forced to toast the bride and groom with plastic glasses because the clock has ticked past midnight and that is the law. Perhaps it could all be justified if it was making any difference in reducing antisocial behavior. But it’s not. All it is doing is turning ordinary people into criminals because there is apparently a law against having a good time.

The real crimes are the abusive behavior, the physical assaults, and the offensive language. Those things are already against the law, and those are the laws that should be enforced. Being drunk is not an excuse for breaking those laws, and that should be all there is to it. On the other hand, if you are not breaking those laws, or causing anybody undue offence, you should be entitled to drink from a glass, high five your friends, and enjoy a night out. Alcohol is not responsible for bad behavior, people are, and if they are not held to be accountable for their own actions they will just go on blaming the alcohol.

No comments: