It’s up to good blokes to stop this senseless violence
This week saw the launch of Real Heroes Walk Away, the national campaign against violence which aims to end the king-hit culture that has seen so many young Australian men killed or injured in random and often drunken assaults.
The campaign, launched by News Limited newspapers and the national website news.com.au, is different from other campaigns in that it doesn’t demand that the government act or the police do more. Rather, it is framed around a belief in personal responsibility. The only way this problem can ever be solved is if individuals take ownership of their actions and think through the consequences of those actions.
The only way this behaviour can ever be challenged is if good blokes speak up and intervene when they see their mates acting in a violent fashion.
The campaign was being worked on for several weeks but was given added impetus with the terrible death in Kings Cross of 18-year-old Thomas Kelly, the alleged victim of a king hit by a stranger to whom he had never uttered a word.
The sad reality is that there have been many other cases like Thomas Kelly’s.
Unless people change their behaviour there will be more. As such, a campaign that calls on people to assess their behaviour is something which can hopefully challenge the grim monotony that now characterises these crimes.
While the campaign has at its centre a call for personal responsibility, it also canvasses two other issues.
The first is whether there is merit in the Federal Government overseeing a national awareness campaign that could be rolled out in schools where the message of non-violence could be instilled into boys.
The second issue is whether there is value in the adoption of so-called king-hit laws which introduce a special category in the Crimes Act to deal with the most heinous and lethal cases of unprovoked violence.
We haven’t issued this call in the traditional media manner of a demand for tougher laws. Rather, we’re calling for a thoughtful examination by all the state attorneys-general about whether the laws can actually help.
The background to this comes from Western Australia, where the Attorney-General in the former Labor Government, Jim McGinty, introduced special king-hit laws in 2008 after a spate of random violence had gripped Perth.
Mr McGinty told news.com.au during the week that the WA laws - the only legislation of its kind in Australia so far - had an immediate effect on the number of one-punch deaths when it was introduced. Previously, someone guilty of a deadly king hit could escape conviction because they would not be found guilty of manslaughter or murder.
“That left the community with a sense of the failure of the justice system when someone responsible for the death of a loved one walked free,” Mr McGinty said. “The cause of death was hitting their head on the ground, so there was sufficient disconnect (to gain an acquittal).”
Mr McGinty said that there were similar holes in laws across Australia, meaning that the cause of death would be sheeted home to something other than the assailant.
It seems kind of absurd, given that the only reason a healthy person suddenly ends up lying on the ground, their head smashing against the footpath, is because they’ve been decked by somebody.
Mr McGinty wants the rest of the nation to look at the WA experience. Fourteen cases have now gone before the courts, resulting in eight convictions.
“I would advocate that each state and territory look at an offence that is between assault and manslaughter,” he said. “Our laws were designed to send a clear message. If you commit an act of violence, you’ll be found guilty. Where there’s a death, families find it insulting.”
Critics of the laws say while they may have resulted in tougher sentencing, they have still not done anything to stop the procession of violence in WA.
They argue that a drunk or angry bloke with a history of not controlling his rage is not going to stop and think about the legal ramifications of belting somebody when they are fired up and full of ink.
It is probably a valid criticism in terms of stopping the violence. It is not a valid one against making sure that people are actually put away for deadly assaults, rather than being able to blame it all on the footpath. Whether the civil libertarians like it or not, part of the role of imprisonment is to satisfy the public’s valid sense of vengeance, whereby someone who goes around king-hitting innocent bystanders is rightly precluded from taking part in civil society, ideally for a very long time.
It is a discussion well worth having.
As a general reader of news, not so much as a journo, the one thing that drives me mad is hearing cases where a card-carrying thug is able to convince a court he is the victim of extenuating circumstances on account of being provoked, being boozy, having been hit himself as a child - whatever piss-weak excuses their defence lawyers dolly up.
Beyond that though, while it is important to have the debate about these legalities, the only thing that will fix this is individuals. Not the courts, not the cops, not the government.
The only thing young blokes really care about is what their mates think of them. If we can get to a point where violence is so desperately unfashionable that everyone will regard you as a loser and treat you as such if you go around decking people, the problem will be as good as solved.
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