Lyndon Hood: "Anti-Shoving" Debate Nears Climax

Published: Tue 1 May 2007 05:48 PM
Scoop Satire: "Anti-Shoving" Debate Nears Climaxby Lyndon Hood
Jenny is ready for a night out clubbing. Will this become a sight of the past?
In recent years a number of anti-violence campaigners have decried the "reasonable force in the pursuit of beer" defence for assault under the Crimes Act. They claim that it constitutes explicit acceptance of violence in society, and further, that it has been used in court to justify actions that were entirely unreasonable, some causing serious injury.
The campaign has reached Parliament, and a controversial members bill (not the repeal of the original proposal, but still removing the "reasonable force" defence) will come to a vote soon. This will herald the climax of a protracted debate. A debate characterised by Government overriding of widespread public opposition; by failed political backroom deals; and by television reports with posed footage depicting the kind of tentative prod which would - strictly speaking - become as illegal as non-beer-related pushing if the legislation comes into effect.
The so-called "Anti-Shoving" Bill has caused widespread anxiety that shoving someone out of the way in order to get to the bar will soon become criminal. A clear majority seems alarmed that such widespread behaviour may soon be classed as assault, and many patrons are offended by an implied comparison between a little shoving, and a beer-abusing rampage.
"This is just criminalising good pub patrons," an opponent of the Bill told Scoop, "shoving in pursuit of beer is widespread and acceptable, and there's nothing wrong with a little shove on the shoulder. We're not talking about hitting people with the intention of hurting them. I don't support that, and New Zealand pub patrons shouldn't be accused of that. Everyone agrees that's wrong. You shouldn't be allowed to do that to adults."
Another opponent, who is not in line to become Prime Minister, put it differently: "This is Nanny State gone mad, interfering with our right to get to our bar as we see fit. Shoving is an important tool to make people understand they shouldn't get between New Zealand pub patrons and their beer."
One face to the anti-anti-shoving Bill campaign is those who believe that shoving people is an important and necessary part of getting to the bar, and that people won't learn not to get in your way if they don't spill their beer regularly. This position is often associated with a biblical argument based on Proverbs 31: "Give beer to those who are perishing / wine to those who are in anguish". This passage was glossed by St Bernard of Clairvaux with the note, "I don't know about thou, but myne anguish doth soar if some buggyr standeth twixt me and the bar".
Drinking experts believe the even light shoving in pub queues may cause more harm than good in the long term. Time-and-motion studies have shown that shoving is not the best way to get to the bar and can in fact cause delays. It is also claimed that a culture of shoving contributes to New Zealand's high violent crime statistics.
A leading supporter of the Anti-Shoving Bill said that it is a case of leading from the top to change attitudes to violence. She also expressed the hope that bar patrons would some day receive their libations by forming orderly cues, and if anyone stood in the way the matter would be resolved by writing a polite letter.
"The purpose of thid Bill is to address serious violence. All this 'anti-shoving' talk is focussing on an irrelevancy," she said, "Normal shoving will not be prosecuted."
The Bill's supporters cite the recent case of a woman charged with assault after shoving someone out of the way to get to a dessert buffet. Pudding serveries are not presently covered by the 'bar-shoving' defense, but nonetheless the case was eventually thrown out of court based on the long-standing principle that the law does not concern itself with trifles.
Supporters also maintain that alleged draconian consequences will be prevented by the normal operation of the justice system. It would be an obvious waste of the time of the police and courts, they say, to charge someone with assault for mere shoving. To choose a homely if unrelated example, it's equally unlikely a guardian would be charged with kidnapping for sending a child to their room - and there's no special law protecting that.
With both sides claiming that they did not intend to criminalise good pub patrons and agreeing that New Zealanders should be able to get to the bar no matter how crowded it is, negotiations were proposed over the wording of the bill last week.
The opposition proposed an amendment that allowed shoving in bars "as long as beer is not spilled". Prior to the meeting, both sides expressed the hope that the other would accept their position, the other side having previously expressed implacable opposition to said position. The result of the meeting was described as "disappointing".
Protests and counter-protests are planned for tomorrow to coincide with a debate over the legislation. The Bill is still likely to pass by a narrow margin however. It would be the first change to that section of the Crimes Act since 1897, when the defence of "justifiable homicide" for killing another person in the course of ordering beer was removed to great public outcry.

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