Send in the Tanks (& Other Madness)

Like everyone else, I was sickened to hear that a young chap was kicked to within an inch of his life outside the QBH nightclub in Melbourne’s Southbank district back in early September. The poor bloke later died in hospital and the thugs responsible were charged.

My disgust turned into disbelief when I caught the news headlines the next day on the radio: “Police to patrol the CBD in Hummers to reduce violence,”  was the gist of the newsflash.

I could hardly believe my ears. I checked the date — no, it’s not April 1. I waited for someone on ABC radio to spill the beans… surely this was some sick joke.

But no, it would seem that Victorian Police have five Hummers on loan. That’s right, the same stupid, Yank Tank favoured by boneheads like Bruce Willis, Will Smith and the like.

Has the world gone completely mad?!

What sort of message is this sending our young (and not so young) people who are out having a good time in Melbourne? That we’re a progressive, liberal country that delights in the freedom to have a good time, have a few drinks and enjoy the company of our mates? Or, that it’s a police state, and “don’t step out of line punk or we’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks?”

I mean, a Hummer is only half an inch of plate armour shy of a troop carrier. Or in other words, it’s an assault vehicle… a show of brute force. So, why stop there? Can’t the Victoria Police borrow the NSW government’s water cannon? Automatic weapons would be handy… or, at the very least, tazers, tear gas and rubber bullets.

I can’t believe anyone in their right mind thinks this is the answer to Melbourne’s late-night violence.

Can someone in the state government please engage their brains rather than desperately pulling on the big reactionary lever? If a government is elected to govern for the majority, it’s time they started working for the majority of the thousands upon thousands of people out on the town in Melbourne on the weekend. Because I can guarantee you that of the myriad people looking to have a good time, virtually no-one will be somehow reassured by the presence of Hummers rolling through our streets like some Robocop deterrent (come quietly or there will be trouble).

Surely the problem isn’t that hard to analyse — much of it is about sheer numbers. More people go out in Melbourne’s CBD than ever. It’s an enormous and vibrant scene that pours oodles of money into the government coffers and these people simply deserve more police protection. Not baton-charging, riot police… just you’re everyday, neighbourhood Bobbies. Think: News Year’s Eve, not G8.

Equally, the Melbourne bar, pub and nightclub managers need to be more vigilant than ever. Obviously, the safety of patrons is absolutely paramount — just about everything has to be viewed through that particular prism at the moment.

And can we please choose the industry spokespeople (and the message they’re peddling) a little more carefully? By which I mean, there’s no point arguing that alcohol has “no proven link to violence” — as I heard in an interview on ABC radio soon after the bashing. It smacks of Big Tobacco’s decades of futile protestations, and does no-one’s credibility any good. We all know big scrums of pissed-up idiots result in violence. Yes, it’s totally wrong to immediately accuse licensees of wrongdoing but it’s lunacy to attempt to infer the term ‘alcohol fueled violence’ is just a myth fabricated by police to bring down the nightclub industry. And, yes, it’s important as an industry to turn people’s righteous rage in the direction of the yobs perpetrating the violence, but it’s easy to appear disconnected or mercenary when doing so.

The Melbourne late-night scene is something Australia can be proud of. It’s a scene that cities around the world envy. But let’s not forget it’s a scene that didn’t just magically mushroom overnight out of a sterile city centre — it’s taken decades to become this varied and this interesting; it’s the result of the life’s work of some extremely talented and intelligent people. Please, let’s not stuff it up.

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