Lock-out laws?

By Brian Andrew

The oft-repeated cry of a hysterical Helen Lovejoy came into the public consciousness way back when the Simpsons was still great in 1996. As a satirical phrase meant to lampoon certain groups’ tendency to offer irrelevant, but essentially inarguable moral positioning, the fact that it remains oh-so-relevant in modern day Australia is a cause for quite some concern. Variously known as won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children syndrome, Helen Lovejoy’s Law or just plain old run of the mill emotional blackmail, the argument need not even invoke children to be a celebrated conversation stopper.

A sure fire play, you won’t even have to think too hard to end a conversation and strut away, a smug winner’s grin on your face. However logically absurd the link may be, any outwardly related moral rhetoric will do.

Against random drug tests for drivers that test for presence, rather than intoxication?  Well I guess you think we should let people drive drunk, too.

Sceptical of the efficiency of sniffer dogs in public places and / or music festivals?  Why don’t we just start giving out heroin and needles on the street corners – to children no less you sick bastard.

As a debate tactic, Lovejoy’s Law lies somewhere on the continuum between Godwin’s law –the idea that as an internet discussion continues, the probability of someone being compared to Hitler or the Nazis approaches 100% – and a baby flinging their toys out of the cot.

In NSW today, there is no better indication that such thought is alive and well than the ongoing furore around the 2014 lock out laws. Now, let me preface this with the acknowledgement that this is a hugely complex, multi-faceted issue that deserves significant thought and reasoned debate. There are, of course, reasonable arguments to be made on both sides of the fence.

Alright, illusions of impartiality out of the way? Good.

It’s a sad indication of the current state of our nanny state society that the debate often centres on a hypothetical “one life” that may or may not be saved by the lock out laws. A quick glance at the top comments on relevant articles with give you a sense of what I mean.

“If we can just save one life, then it is all worth it”
“Can you imagine being the family of the poor boy that was killed”
“Can you put a price on human life”

You don’t have to be familiar with Lovejoy’s law to see false dichotomy being presented here. Reading between the lines, you either support the lock out laws, or you value your ability to get drunk over innocent people’s lives. Odds are you aren’t particularly opposed to genocide and baby eating either.

In reality these types of arguments are at best misguided and at worst agenda driven, moralistic preaching masquerading as the comments of a “concerned” citizen. Let’s take a step back for a second and really consider the argument being made here.

1. You cannot put a price on a human life
2. Therefore it’s reasonable to ban anything that might threaten said life

The rebuttal I often hear to this is that car crashes are several orders of magnitudes more dangerous than Kings Cross ever was. In fairness to those arguing on the side of the lockouts, driving has essentially become a necessity to many living in modern cities. Banning driving isn’t a reasonable analogue to the lock out laws.

What if we were to compare it to some “non-essentials” in modern life?

– In the last 10 years in Australia there have been, on average, 41 drowning deaths in backyard pools each year.
– Family dogs kill several people a year and maim dozens more.
– Skateboarding and recreational cycling (i.e, non-travel related) average 2-3 deaths a year and leave many more with permanent disabilities.

Of course, there are laws governing pool fences, there are restrictions on the type of dogs you can own and helmets are mandatory for any would be cyclist.

At no point, however, has the government restricted our swimming activities to the point that pool manufacturers are going out of business.

They have never told anyone that they cannot own a dog due to the area they are in. They have never attempted to restrict our access to bikes and skateboards.

The reason for this? No one is really thinking about a hypothetical single life that could be saved by restricting these activities. No one really believes that anyone is trying to put a price on a human life.

They know, deep down, that dead youths vs. lockout laws is an absurd false dichotomy.

Otherwise they would be looking to control the time you spend in your backyard pool. After all, the most common age group to drown are 0 – 4 year olds, not even including a 30% relative increase in the last period for which stats are available (June 14/15).

Of course they would also be making sure families with small children were not allowed to own dogs. Why? Of the 13,000 dog attacks that require hospitalisation each year, children under 12 are hugely overrepresented.

And there would definitely be media driven campaigns to ban skateboards and bicycles for those under 18. Let’s be honest, which adults in their right mind still skate anyway?

Why then are we not accused of being child-hating monsters?

The fact is, not only was violence in the area targeted by the lock out laws dropping at a not-insignificant 20% per year (as a part of a state-wide long term downwards trend), but the two one-punch deaths that prompted the media hysteria that led to the lock-out laws are dwarfed by just the three examples above.

So what are they really thinking when you’re asked about the price of “one life”? They are thinking that they don’t see why anyone should be drinking after 3 am. They are thinking that live music and clubbing scene in Sydney was all about drugs, alcohol and violence and it’s better off gone anyway. They are thinking that because they personally disapprove of others life choices, then it is perfectly reasonable to force them to change.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Mike Baird’s painfully out of touch commentary on the issue, characterising any opposition to the laws as based on “hysteria” driven by those who are pissed off they can’t get a drink after 10 or get blotto in the cross.

Mike Baird, supported by hoards of armchair warriors across NSW, disapproves of your choice of leisure. His disapproval is not based on an objective understanding of the dangers of your choice of leisure activity.

It is based on his own subjective sense of morality.

This is not about the violence. It’s not about the two poor kids that died. This is about an out of touch generation who believe they should be allowed to police the actions of others simply because they don’t like it.

Much has already been written regarding the ineffectiveness of the laws in their stated goals, particularly when weighed against their social and economic costs. The fact that any benefit may even equate to a statistical counting error would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. (Matt Barrie)

What this article is really about is the fact that if the same logic were applied to almost any other aspect of society, we would very quickly be spending our lives in padded cells eating no-choke blended mush.

It is frankly quite scary that a fact-free, media manufactured scare campaign designed to sell papers and push a moral agenda was so rapidly and comprehensively effective in its goals.

The Loveyjoy’s of this world are out in force and the well-oiled 24 hour news machine has become adept at focusing their attention on whichever outrage is the flavour of the day.

Through all of this, it’s curious that no one seems to have genuinely asked the “children” what they think. The audience most effected – presumably young adults throughout Sydney – remained unconsulted throughout the entire process. Old enough to drive a car, fly a plane, get a mortgage, get married and go to war but not old enough to be trusted with a shot of vodka after midnight.

So now, would somebody PLEASE think of the children?