Moral lectures from the ethically challenged
Impartiality is everything in journalism but at the risk of sounding slightly biased it’s fair to say that if the NSW Government were a dog you would take it down to the bottom of the yard and shoot it.
Discussing the innate and irreversible badness of the NSW Government is about the most banal thing you can do these days. If anything this may be its most evil legacy – the cruelling of casual political discussion.
It’s like the inspired Gary Larson cartoon featuring nerds in hell - “Hot enough for ya?” – where remarking that NSW seems to be in political strife is as profound and insightful as noting that Germany has a bit of a chequered history, the Cuban economy could probably be doing better, or that Afghanistan has historically under-invested in infrastructure.
Rest assured that this column isn’t about the NSW Government. It’s about something the NSW Government has given us even more of an excuse to do. It’s about drinking to excess, which under the new draft guidelines means having more than two standard drinks at any given time.
It’s specifically about the ritualised moral panic - led by our increasingly puritanical police - being played out with renewed gusto each year as our top cops beat their chests about the allegedly out-of-control scourge of drunkenness, drunken violence, drunken injuries, drunken driving, drunken disco dancing, drunken everything.
And it starts with the most hysterical intervention anyone has made in the alcohol debate – former Police Minister Matt Brown, who served with distinction in the Rees Cabinet for an impressive 72 hours before being punted over just one little incident, which brings to mind the legendary joke about the Greek guy with a fondness for goats.
(There’s probably Mayan Indians living in the jungles of Guatemala who know the Matt Brown story by now but, for the record, Brown was removed from Cabinet last year after it emerged he’d got plastered at a party at State Parliament, stripped down to his green jocks, mounted the chest of fellow Illawarra MP Noreen Hay and shouted across the crowded room at her staffer daughter: “Look, I’m t..ty-f…ing your mother!” Admittedly he only did this once but it was still deemed sufficient to justify his removal from Cabinet.)
Despite this aberrant behavioural pedigree Matt Brown decided this past week to hurl himself into the debate over binge-drinking, holding a press conference in his capacity as the member for Kiama (while clothed, happily) where he enthusiastically backed calls from the local coppers and council for 24-hour drinking bans at the beachside town on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Australia Day, double the length of the existing 12-hour bans.
Here’s what undie-boy had to say:
“In most countries you can drink anywhere anytime and people drink responsibly, but in Australia too often people start drinking and they tend to go crazy. I hope society can move to a stage where prescriptive rules are not required, and that our culture gets away from behaving badly.”
Most of us share that hope, Matt.
But here’s the hysterical thing about NSW right now.
We’ve got a puritanical tee-total Police Commissioner who has written several opinion pieces now about the demon drink, and is now forming a lethal operational pincer movement with the backing of an ethically bereft government that has got no right to lecture any citizen about its moral behaviour.
Commissioner Scipione is a genuinely nice bloke but if he doesn’t want to drink that is his problem. It shouldn’t be mine, nor yours, if you are doing nothing wrong while under the influence. And “nothing wrong” should include being intoxicated in public – I doubt that many Australians could have made it home from the Christmas Party without being pinched if this 19th century edict was implemented to the letter of the law.
As for the role of our government in this crusade – it’s just unbelievable, breathless hypocrisy. For the past three years Macquarie Street has looked more like the Last Days of Rome than a functioning government yet here you have blokes such as Matt Brown who, having been flat out keeping his dacks on, thinks nothing of ruminating publicly about where the rest of us are going wrong.
So down in Kiama, because a few locals and blow-ins have been causing trouble on the drink, it’s now been decreed that everyone must suffer as a result. There have been the usual reassurances from the police about how they will use their discretion in doling out fines for people who breach the ban, and that they won’t necessarily be fining adults who want to have a glass of white on a family picnic, that people will still be allowed to enjoy alcohol sensibly.
It’s an empty reassurance as all this ban does is effectively criminalise perfectly legitimate adult behaviour. It places anyone who wants to have a couple of quiet ones in the criminal sphere. If you are sitting in a park with your kids and with other adult friends, it is an absolute impertinence in this supposedly open society of ours for the cops to even be able to come over and initiate a casual conversation with you, to gauge whether (in their totally untrained and subjective view) you are on the wrong side of tipsy.
If you’re a young person, sitting around with some friends sharing a couple of six packs, forget about it, because you will be an absolute magnet for police attention whether you are actually doing anything wrong or not.
I always thought it was the job of the police to capture bad guys. A few little things have happened in Sydney this year, like bikies being bashed to death in broad daylight at the Sydney Airport in front of hundreds of stunned families, or Michael McGurk being shot dead execution style in his driveway in front of his son – no leads on that one, apparently, but as long as we’re tackling the evil that is the chardonnay-fuelled park picnic, we can all sleep safely at night.
This weekend saw the absurd theatre whereby under a joint trans-Tasman operation police in every big city did two things.
They arrested a bunch of drunken, violent hooligans who should be arrested as a matter of course anyway.
And they harassed a whole bunch of innocent young people who were having a great time.
A special Christmas shout-out to the young couple in that photo in the Telegraph on Monday who, having been hand-cuffed and lined up with other drunks along a building wall, still found their way to pash each other silly. It was for me the only reassuring moment in this absurd jack-booted exercise.
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