Skip to Content »

Sir Geoffrey and personal responsibility for drunken oafishness

  • April 27th, 2010

Sir Geoffrey Palmer has practised for long enough to go through a full cycle of political correctness. He ran into PC hostility for his recent heretical pondering on practical compromise of our anti-whaling posturing, and our knee-jerk rejection of US naval visits. What he actually said was mild. But few would know exactly what he said, because the hostile coverage was in the juvenile style of much NZ political debate (one step up from “Mum – Geoffrey’s talking dirty, he said poos and bum”)


Now he is sticking his head out more dangerously. He’s crusading against some sacred beliefs of the liberals of his generation.  For them, on most social questions, the only answer was get the law out of the way – let it all hang out. Whether they knew it or not they were primitive Rousseau followers “If we stop repressing natural instincts  our innate goodness will have a chance to shine through.”


Translated into liquor law, we thought that if we dumped sale restrictions and ensured that liquor was available everywhere, a natural part of meals, of relaxation, of entertainment, we would emerge from our binge drinking dark past to become civilised little Frenchmen and women, enjoying our neighbourhood cafes and picnics.


Some of that has emerged. But the picture from the Law Commission’s interim report suggests we have evolved more in the direction of Russia than France. Incidentally last week I saw public drunkenness in France, liquor outlets all have signs warning people under 18 that they will not be able to buy alcohol, and they are worried about their liver cirrhosis figures.


But despite apparent recantation of earlier Rousseau inclinations, the media release foreshadowing Law Commission Report R114  “Alcohol in our Lives: Curbing the Harm” suggests that Sir Geoffrey has not changed enough of his spots.


The report seems unlikely to move away from the preoccupation with sale restrictions. Countries where drunk public aggression is rare, despite widespread availability of alcohol, show that that intrusive restrictions may not be necessary, as long as something else is present – a climate of personal responsibity. And what is such a climate associated with? Effective and pervasive social and legal sanctions at the personal level for low level criminal behaviour. That can of course include offensive drunkenness.


Instead of focussing on the behaviour we do not want, the new Report seems to continue the targeting of  alcohol and those who sell it.


In my view we will get no material change, whether toward a more European civility, or otherwise, without a return to treating actors as responsible for what they do, without allowing them to blame alcohol, or the person who supplied them.


I value Sir Geoffrey’s vigour. I hope the report stacks up analytically. We need the bluntness and drive he has brought to the debate whatever his recommendations. But in my view they will not advance us at all for so long as the law is besotted with the conduct of suppliers, and fails to deter, and to incapacitate and to punish boorish, threatening, vandalistic, behaviour whenever and wherever it occurs, whether alcohol is involved or not.


The report will apparently recommend “Increasing personal responsibility for unacceptable or harmful behaviours induced by alcohol, including a civil cost recovery rigime for those picked up by the police when grossly intoxicated”.


Good!  But if this is the only nod toward reinstating the personal responsibility law that prevailed before the “reforms” of my generation, and the effective police powers that went with them, Sir Geoffrey’s vigour could go sadly unrewarded. We will not get the cultural change he wants.


  • George
  • April 27th, 2010
  • 9:34 pm

I was walking back to my ship one night when a carload of drunken yobs went out of control at high speed and slammed into an immoveable object. The front seaters were all walking wounded, but in the back someone's daughter was in dire straits. Her legs were broken and a femur had pierced her abdomen. She was alternately screaming and moaning like an animal. I can still smell blood, alcohol and shit when I think of it.  I don't know if she survived
I abdicated my personal responsibility when I ineffectually helped the ambos.  What I should have been doing was beating the drunken little rat faced prick of a driver to a pulp.

  • Jim Maclean
  • April 27th, 2010
  • 10:23 pm

I long for the day when the law brings home to individuals the requirement for them to behave responsibly with real and meaninful penalties for those who cannot or will not. Perhaps when such laws are passed and vigorously enforced then we can move back to sale of liquor to those under 20 again.
Meantime I feel this is simply a failed experiment. We can debate the reasons and the possible solutions but the first thing to do is to put the age back to 20 to minimise the harm while we sort out the issues.
On a personal note, welcome back Stephen, I always find your blog thought provoking even when as now I disagree with you and I thank you for your effort and your energy in providing and maintaining it.


Thanks Jim. I meant to blog from holiday, but it seemed less important than playing as New Zealand got distant.


Hi my name is Jacqueline and I just wanted to drop you a quick note here instead of calling you. I came to your » Blog Archive » Sir Geoffrey and personal responsibility for drunken oafishness page and noticed you could have a lot more visitors. I have found that the key to running a successful website is making sure the visitors you are getting are interested in your niche. There is a company that you can get targeted traffic from and they let you try their service for free for 7 days. I managed to get over 300 targeted visitors to day to my website. Visit them here:

Leave your comments:

* Required fields. Your e-mail address will not be published on this site

You can use the following HTML tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>