Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Under The Influence Of Liquor Lobby Groups

Comparisons have been made between hoteliers and developers in terms of their relationships with government. The influence of developers and their lobbyists is currently the subject of much examination in the wake of the Michael McGurk murder, and the perceived influence of Graham Richardson, the former federal minister and Labor Party powerbroker. The idea that developers who make donations to political parties might receive favourable treatment is an easy concept to grasp. But while all the attention has been focused on allegations of corruption involving developer donations, it has been easy to forget that other lobby groups also seek favour with the government.

The alcohol service industry is also a significant source of political donations, as well as being an enormous tax revenue generator for any government. For that reason, it has been suggested that there is a potential conflict of interest for a government which claims to be targeting alcohol related anti-social behavior. A paper produced by a police officer, and endorsed by the Police Association, apparently alleges that the government is “unduly influenced” by political donations from the Australian Hotels Association, described as “unacceptable practices that subvert established democratic processes.”

The reason for the Police Association’s concern is quite simple. They are tired of police officers being injured by drunken thugs who pick fights and resist arrest. While the government is talking about finding ways to reduce such violence, police officers know from experience that one of the most effective ways to do that is to reduce trading hours. Yet, despite the evidence of trial changes to trading hours in Newcastle, the government appears to be very reluctant to take that approach. Instead, there is a great deal of talk about personal responsibility and measures such as plastic cups.

Of course, not everyone who gets drunk is also going to get violent or anti-social. Reducing trading hours could easily be seen as depriving the majority of their rights to go out and have a good time in the attempt to thwart the few who cause the trouble. In a free society, responsible adults should be able to go where they please, when they please, including out for a drink. In fact, in a free society it should not be against the law to make an idiot of yourself, so long as you do not harm or interfere with others.

Personal responsibility must be the central principle from which all else proceeds. But from a practical point of view, reducing trading hours is effective because it reduces the opportunity for people to get themselves into trouble. Even a modest reduction in hours can make a big difference in the amount of violent behavior, as has been proven where it has been tried. It’s an idea that deserves at least to be properly considered in an objective fashion, and that’s not likely to happen as long as we have governments who are seen to be under the influence of the liquor industry.

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