News & Insight

How many one-punch deaths does it take?

Three young men with so much life ahead of them.

Three families, forevermore incomplete, plunged into an almost incomprehensible mourning.

The deaths of Sydney teenagers Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie were separated from that of Cole Miller's by more than 900 kilometres and three and a half years.

But they were tragically, hauntingly similar.

Each popular 18-year-old walked unwittingly into the path of their killers, or alleged killers in the case of Cole, while on a night out with friends in inner-city entertainment precincts.

Each suffered a ferocious, single blow to the head that knocked him to the footpath with head injuries so severe he would lapse into a state of unconsciousness he would never wake from.

Each was rushed to a nearby hospital, where, in the coming hours and days, devastated family gathered around his bed, where they were forced to make the agonising decision to switch off his life support and watch him slip away.

Each young man's life ended, just as it was beginning, by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thomas Kelly died after being felled by a single punch on his first night out in Kings Cross.

By being in a place renowned for its excessive public drunkenness.

The Liberal New South Wales government, then led by Barry O'Farrell, was under extraordinary public pressure to act decisively on alcohol-fuelled violence in the wake of Thomas Kelly's death in July 2012.

But like his then-counterpart in Queensland, Campbell Newman, he maintained greater enforcement of existing laws and increased penalties for violent, alcohol-related offences, rather than the so-called Newcastle solution was the key.

A reduction in trading hours and venue lockouts was not worth the impact on the so-called "night-time economy", Mr O'Farrell staunchly argued, trying to balance the competing demands of pressure from his party's all-powerful backers, the alcohol lobby, with growing public anger.

In Queensland, the LNP's opposition to reduced trading hours and lockouts, even in trial form, was equally as staunch, due to the predicted economic impacts on an industry that public records show donated nearly $375,000 of its $408,000 disclosed political donations between 2011 and 2014 to the party.

Fast forward a year and a half and Mr O'Farrell again reiterated reduced trading times and 1am lockouts were not the key to reducing violence after Daniel Christie died in circumstances almost mirroring Thomas Kelly's death.

By February, however, came the dramatic backflip. 

Amid widespread anger over the second high profile coward's punch fatality, and despite the desperate warnings from the Australian Hotels Association the move would be "catastrophic", he recalled parliament early to immediately implement new laws to curb alcohol-fuelled violence.

Last drinks were wound back from 5am to 3am in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross nightclub precincts, 1.30am lockouts were introduced and blanket 10pm bottle shop closing times were instituted across the state.

"This is about trying to send a very clear message to the industry that yes, you can continue to trade after 3 o'clock, but drinks will cease at 3 o'clock," he said.

A year and a half on official figures on assaults and hospitalisations in the precinct are yet to be revealed, however, Professor Kypros Kypri of the University of Newcastle's school of medicine and public health, said independent evaluations have showed that in the past two years, there has been large reductions in police apprehensions for assault and emergency department presentations for alcohol-related serious injury.

While still under evaluation, the new Mike Baird-led government looks set to make the measures permanent.

In Queensland, in a precariously balanced parliament, the Labor government cannot be so decisive.

At the 2015 election, Annastacia Palaszczuk campaigned on introducing the Newcastle solution - with 2am last drinks and 1am lockouts - in Queensland but she requires the support of independents Billy Gordon and speaker Peter Wellington to pass new laws.

The two Katter Party MPs, Robbie Katter and Shane Knuth, have indicated their intention to oppose their introduction.

A number of concessions have already been made, much to the chagrin of Mines and Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham, a maxillofacial surgeon who joined the Labor Party after a long-standing campaign for action on alcohol-fuelled violence, after reconstructing countless faces bashed in inner Brisbane nightclub precincts.

In the wake of Cole Miller's death, Dr Lynham said the Newcastle approach had been instituted in other cities, where time and again it had proven to reduce violence and injury.

"This fear-mongering campaign just has to stop by the nightclub proponents," he said.

The only sure way the Palaszczuk Government has of introducing its last drinks laws in Queensland, is if, like the New South Wales Liberal Party, the Queensland LNP has a change of heart.

While Shadow Attorney-General Ian Walker said after Cole Miller's death that the party was willing to negotiate with the government, its position remains one of opposition to reduced trading hours and lockouts.

"We remain concerned that a focus on lockouts and closing times alone will not stop alcohol-fuelled violence," he said.

"We were disappointed to hear this week that Dr Lynham has now said he will not move from his narrow position."

It took the tragic, senseless deaths of two young New South Wales men for the state's Liberal Party to finally concede to trialling Newcastle approach.

As a shocked public continues to reel over the death of Cole Miller, it remains to be seen whether it will take the claiming of a second innocent life to instigate a similar change of heart among their Queensland counterparts.

By: Kim Stephens, Brisbane Times, 10th January 2016

Thomas Kelly, Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation, Take Kare, coward punch

Published on by TKYF. Source.