How can we make one punch attacks a thing of the past?

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Underlying violence causes need to be addressed | InteractiveThe insidious consequences of one punch attacksThere has been increased attention toward the occurrence of onepunch attacks in Australia, followed by death or serious brain injuries.Australia is not alone in showing concern towards such trends, as similar attacks where people are seriously injured or die are reported in the UK, Canada and elsewhere.

Nevertheless the Australian figures are striking: 91 people have been assaulted and killed between 2000 and 2013. King’s Cross and NSW in general has seen the greatest number of these incidents, followed by Queensland and Victoria.

‘Coward punches’ or ‘onepunch attacks’ have occurred more frequently in precincts like Kings Cross and Fortitude Valley, late at night and almost always as a result of alcohol fueled violence. The particularly violent and deadly assaults to Thomas Kelly, Daniel Christie and others have led most state governments to introduce harsher legislation towards perpetrators, lock-out laws restricting access to pubs and reducing the time a last drink can be purchased.

Brisbane has not been spared by these events; the recent death of 18-year-old Cole Miller has sparked again the debate in Queensland, where the Labor Government has announced anti-violence legislation in line and even stricter than those implemented in Sydney CBD and King’s Cross. The question is: do these measures work? They do to a certain degree. Various reports suggest a 40 per centdecrease in violence in the Sydney areas where they are implemented. However other reports also suggest that suburbs where the new laws don’t apply have seen an increase in alcohol fueled assaults and violence. So do the new measures shift the problem from one area to the other? It is too early to make an objective assessment, but many are calling for such measures to be implemented state-wide.

Another legal approach pursued by most jurisdictions has been the introduction of legislation that equates ‘unlawful striking causing death’ –- the ‘onepunch attack’ –to murder. The Queensland Safe Night Out Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 has introduced ‘unlawful striking causing death’ into the Queensland Criminal Code. The offence carries the penalty of life imprisonment, the harshest maximum penalty currently in any Australian jurisdiction, and sits next to murder in the hierarchy of offences.

More broadly and in the longer term, the existence of entertainment precincts such as Fortitude Valley, with their high concentration of licenses, which are conducive to alcohol fueled violence, should be questioned and reviewed.

Again for the long term, the education of the younger generation will be paramount. It is refreshing to see implementation of school programs that aim to shape an Australian culture where alcohol and violence are no longer tolerated. Maybe in the long-term overall approaches that include legal interventions, renewed urban planning and improved educational programs will ensure onepunch attacks will be a thing of the past.

Professor Rosa Alati is anNHMRC Research Fellow at theSchool of Public Health andCentre for Youth Substance Abuse Research.

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