In May, the New South Wales Labor government introduced a new law lowering the threshold for public intoxication before which a person could be “moved on” and potentially arrested by police. The threshold was changed from “seriously drunk” to merely “noticeably drunk”.
I was surprised by the law change. I wracked my brains for a list of noticeably sober institutions. The NSW Labor Party didn’t make it.
It occurred to me that the NSW government had not thought through the full consequences of a “noticeably drunk” law. Applied consistently, and across the board, parliament would regularly be emptied by the constabulary. Journalists and student backpackers would be rounded up. Footballers would face mass arrest. The majority of people out on any major street in any major city on a Friday night would be legitimate targets for our hard working police force.
For better or worse, Australia is very often noticeably drunk.
A NSW resident, I can personally attest to the fact that, months after its passing, it is not being applied across the board.
Since the passing of these laws, I have, on more than one occasion, ignored the federal government’s warning that four standard drinks or more is dangerous-level binge drinking. If subpeoned to testify in a court of law as to whether I was noticeably drunk, my friends would be forced to admit: “Yes, his ramblings on the Latin American revolution and the political economy of Lily Allen’s new album were noticeably increasing in volume and incoherence.”
On such nights, I made my way through public streets to the train station with a no-doubt noticeable unsteadiness. This is yet to cause me any trouble with the constabulary.
So, if it isn’t being applied consistently, who is the law targeted at?
Thalia Anthony, a law lecturer at Sydney University, wrote in the May 12 Sydney Morning Herald: “New laws giving police the power to move on people who are slurring their words will cement a long tradition of criminalising Aboriginal people for public order offences ...
“History shows indigenous people are most likely to be caught by this type of legislation and incarcerated for the mere appearance of intoxication.”
Anthony said: “The discriminatory policing of drunk Aboriginal people is blatant. Indigenous people are 42 times more likely than other Australians to be in custody for public drunkenness ...
“Through its move-on slurring powers, the NSW Government has provided another back-door means for incarcerating drunk Aboriginal people ... It is another sad attempt to criminalise indigenous behaviour rather than criminal activity.”
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