Are Sydney’s lockout laws really putting an end to violence?

First Media Analysis Article by Andriana Simos (z5061608, F10A)

In January 2014, the Barry O’Farrell government introduced new lockout laws to curb the incidence of alcohol-induced violence. These new laws implemented 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks across the Sydney CBD Entertainment Precinct and there was also a NSW-wide ban on takeaway alcohol sales after 10pm. At the time, these actions answered a media panic in the wake of the deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie, who succumbed to injuries sustained from drunken coward-punch attacks. Since then, assaults in parts of Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Kings Cross have dropped as the lockout laws begin to come into effect. Regardless of this success however, the laws have recently come under fire in the media as Australians question their drastic effects on Sydney’s nightlife.

To emphasise the contentiousness of this issue further, this essay will focus on two opinion pieces both published in February 2016. The first article is by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Rob McEwen, entitled “The silent majority backs Sydney’s lockout laws,” and the second is by the Queensland Times’ Peter Chapman, entitled “Lockout laws a false hope to stop violence.” A thorough analysis of each article reveals the idea that although they vary significantly in their viewpoints, the author’s operate under the same assumptions about their intended audience. In fact, both articles assume a readership which is against the lockout laws as they are having an effect on Sydney’s nightlife and businesses. Therefore, a comparison of these two articles will make these assumptions clearer.

Firstly, the two opinion pieces are distinct not only in writing style but also in the ways in which the issue has been interpreted and evaluated by the author. Specifically, Chapman’s piece is more opinion whereby, he provides limited justifications for his negative assessments of the “young punks” who “booze up before they hit the streets.” By doing this, he is operating on the premise that the readers will share the same venomous view as him and will need no persuading that the lockout laws will do nothing to stop the “punks” from becoming violent. Alternatively, McEwen’s article is a mixture of both opinion and argumentation. This is evident because although McEwen does assume a readership which is against the lockout laws and their effects, he does try to actively argue for his principle claim that the lockout laws have actually reduced the number of incidents surrounding alcohol-related violence. Thus, McEwen’s article is more argumentative than Chapman’s piece, as he uses an appeal to facts and authority to effectively persuade his readers that the laws are in fact a positive policy put forward by the O’Farrell government.

Rob McEwen’s opinion piece, “The silent majority back’s Sydney’s lockout laws,” published by the Sydney Morning Herald, operates under the principal claim that the lockout laws should be supported as they have led to a dramatic drop in alcohol-fuelled assaults around the Sydney region. However, it becomes obvious that although McEwen is opposed to the “vocal minority” who argue against the lockout laws, he still operates with the assumption that most of his readers will come from this minority group. As a result, in order to make a convincing argument which goes against the assumptions of his readership, McEwen uses a number of justifications to support his principle evaluative claim. This is emphasised as he utilises a variety of appeals to authority, statistics and facts in order to get his point across that the laws have actually had a positive effect on Sydney’s nightlife. Specifically, although he describes how there has been a recent uprising of “misguided… comments” from vocal opponents to the laws, his appeal to facts and statistics highlights his belief that these oppositions are out of line. This is evident as he states: “What is beyond doubt, however, is that less access to alcohol results in less violence. For every hour (that) trading hours are reduced, there is about a 20 per cent decrease in assaults.” Therefore, this appeal to statistics effectively supports the primary claim and consequently, the piece is one step closer to convincing the “opponents” or “vocal minority” to agree with McEwen’s point of view.

Furthermore, McEwen’s strongest supportive argument is his continuous appeals to analogy where he compares Sydney’s nightlife to those in Amsterdam and “other large international cities.” In fact, he makes references to these analogies not once but twice throughout the opinion piece. These are evident below.

          “… all I am reading is that Sydney is dead, an assault before 3am is proof that lockout laws don’t work and Amsterdam has reduced assaults by increasing trading hours. Really? Then perhaps someone could explain to me why there is a 34 per cent increase in ambulance call outs in central Amsterdam for alcohol-related injuries since trading hours have been increased by an hour.”

          “You can still get a drink anywhere in the Sydney precinct until 3am. Small bars, most restaurants and accommodation hotels are exempt. How does this compare to other large international cities? Pretty well as it turns out. In Paris most venues close at 2am. In London it’s 3am and in New York, the city that never sleeps, most establishments close at 4am. In California last drinks is 2am, statewide.”

The underlying “logic” here seems to be that those who oppose the lockout laws have no basis for their belief because other countries have stricter laws and in some cases, such as Amsterdam, these laws have been ineffective in reducing alcohol-fuelled violence or injuries. However, as McEwen does not go into further analysis of these comparisons and the “logic” behind them, his argument is relying on the idea that the reader accepts the comparison as valid and that they hold a particular view of the laws. In this case, his presumption about his readers has changed. McEwen assumes they are beginning to agree with his principle claim that the lockout laws should be supported and as a result, he does not feel obligated to support his appeal to comparison with further justification. Consequently, at this stage, McEwen’s piece begins to assume a like-minded audience and therefore, his appeals to comparisons become more effective regardless of whether or not they have been backed up by other appeals.

In addition, further analysis of the piece emphasises this idea that McEwen is dealing with a like-minded audience. In particular, his use of rhetorical questions and pronouns such as “we” and “us,” gives off the impression that he is speaking for his audience rather than towards them. In fact, this is exactly what he does as he states with a clear tone of defiance and determination:

          “We need to ask ourselves, what sort of city do we want? A vibrant, exciting, safe city or a big, ugly threatening city overrun by drunken louts and hoodlums? I know what I prefer.”

          “And to Mike Baird, I’ll say one thing: the majority of the people in this city are behind you – the ones you hear are a vocal minority. Most of us don’t give a stuff if another strip club in the Cross closes!”

These statements are the clearest example of the relationship which McEwen has tried to create with his audience. For these arguments and defiant statements to make sense, the readers must hold a similar view of the laws- a view in which they should not be removed as they have made Sydney a safer environment at night. This is also evident as McEwen’s use of negative adjectives such as “drunken louts” and “hoodlums,” work with the assumption that the readers will take this description of intoxicated individuals for granted. Further to this, the truncated sentence, “I know what I prefer,” is another persuasive mechanism which emphasises McEwen’s belief that his readers have been effectively persuaded to sympathise with his standpoint. Specifically, as McEwen uses this sentence after providing an “either-or argument” between wanting a “vibrant” city or a “threatening city,” this appeals to the readers’ emotions as McEwen presumes they will also “prefer” a safe and “vibrant” city. Therefore, these comparisons and defiant statements make the piece effectively persuasive.

As a result, it is evident that although McEwen initially works with the assumption that his audience is not like-minded, he finally decides that his justifications have convinced his readers to see his point of view. This then leads him to make more generalized statements such as “commentary that suggests the Cross is dead is misleading,” whereby, he provides no supportive justification nor any appeals to statistics or facts. Thus, it is clear that McEwen’s piece is more argumentative than opinion as he formulates the “logic” of his arguments in order to convince a readership, which is not initially like-minded, to agree with his viewpoint that the lockout laws are positively impacting Sydney’s nightlife.

With regards to Peter Chapman’s opinion piece, “Lockout laws a false hope to stop violence,” it is clear that he also assumes a like-minded audience who will agree with his principle claim. In fact, Chapman’s confidence in his readers is clear as he explicitly states this claim, whereby, he believes the lockout laws won’t stop violence as “most youngsters… booze up before they hit the streets.” Regardless of this explicitness however, he does use an appeal to social and ethical norms as well as an appeal to authority, by way of justificatory support for his claim. This is particularly evident as he supports his argument regarding the “young punks” who drink before going out by stating:

          “This fact was backed up in a recent survey at the Gold Coast which revealed that almost 80% of people arriving at the strip to party had already drunk a skin full at home.”

This use of statistics and appeal to the authority of the survey as a persuasive mechanism is quite telling. Such an appeal to authority relies on the reader regarding the statistics and the survey from which they came, as well-informed, credible and honest. As a result, there is an underlying warrant here whereby, expert surveys are considered reliable sources which should be believed. Thus, it is clear that although Chapman is working with the presumption that his audience are of the same view as him, he still feels the need to support his statements in order to make his piece more argumentative and foolproof.

However, it must be noted here that although Chapman does provide this appeal to authority, he fails to provide the specific name of the survey. In this case, his persuasive mechanism becomes less effective than those used in McEwen’s piece, as McEwen provides the specific names of sources such as “Dr Don Weatherburn, director of BOSCAR.”

Alternatively however, it can also be argued that Chapman’s failure to name the survey is actually further proof that he assumes his readers know of such things already and will therefore, take everything he says for granted and at face-value. This is also emphasised through his use of negative adjectives in:

          “Our greatest problem revolves around the violent macho brigade of young men who want to belt the hell out of anyone who looks sideways at them.”

Without providing any argumentative support for this statement, Chapman’s evaluative argument becomes more opinion. He seems to be trying to appeal to the emotions and fears of the readers, however, without any supportive justification it becomes evident that the piece is designed for a like-minded audience who do not need to be persuaded by Chapman.

Furthermore, Chapman also uses an appeal to social and ethical norms in order to support his opposition to the lockout laws. After describing the “problem” of “the macho brigade of young men” who drink before going out, he refers to the “supposedly” widely held belief that only parents and magistrates can stop alcohol-fueled violence in Sydney. This is evident as he states using emotive language:

          “To fix that we need to have the community take a stand against them, have parents who commit to raising their children to show respect and most importantly magistrates who are prepared to lock the idiots up rather than letting them go with a slap on the wrist.”

          “Even one weekend in a maximum security jail will knock the macho out of any young punk.”

Interestingly, this appeal to social and ethical norms is not supported by further evidence and as a result, this is another case in the piece where Chapman presumes his readers will arrive at the same negative view of the “idiots” and “punks.” Thus, it is clear that although Chapman does provide some form of support for his principle claim, in some instances he does not provide enough and his piece becomes more opinion rather than argument.

As a result, Chapman’s piece is a mixture of both opinion and argumentation. However, it must be mentioned that although he does use persuasive mechanisms such as underlying warrants and an appeal to authority, in some cases his personal viewpoint overwhelms the piece. Therefore, this emphasises the idea that Chapman is under the impression that his readers would agree with everything he said and therefore, he did not feel the need to provide as much argumentation as McEwen.

In conclusion, an analysis and comparison of both articles reveals the idea that the authors believe they are catering for a readership who are opposed to the lockout laws. In fact, McEwen initially appeals to those opposed to the laws and uses a variety of persuasive techniques in order to convince his readers to see his central argument. Alternatively, Chapman’s piece is more opinion whereby, he assumes a like-minded readership and feels no need to persuade them as they are already of the same opinion as him. Therefore, although it would not be reasonable to form a number of general conclusions based only on these two articles, a study of each piece suggests an underlying presumption that readers are more likely to disagree with the lockout laws and as a result, McEwen has the more difficult task of convincing his readers otherwise.

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