Drinking culture unacceptable, says NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell believes Australia has an "unacceptable" drinking culture but has stood by his government's efforts to quell alcohol-fuelled violence since the tragic death of Sydney teenager Thomas Kelly.

On Tuesday Fairfax Media revealed that the man who has admitted to Thomas' manslaughter had "pre-fuelled" on double-strength vodka drinks on his way to Kings Cross with friends on that fateful night in July last year.

An agreed statement of facts tendered to the NSW Supreme Court revealed that police estimated Kieran Loveridge had consumed about six Smirnoff Ice Double Black cans in less than two hours, each can containing 1.9 standard drinks.

But the statement also revealed he had not consumed a drink in Kings Cross, the scene of his violent, fatal and unprovoked attack on Kelly, and four other assaults.

The case prompted the chief executive of Australian Hotels Association NSW, Paul Nicolaou, to claim the government had imposed unfair restrictions and regulations on venue operators in response to Kelly's death, an incident he described as "a crime that made the community sick to the stomach".

"Our sympathies remain with the Kelly family and we encourage the community to get behind the Thomas Kelly Foundation as we collectively work for solutions to the issue of violence on our streets," Mr Nicolaou said.

"But questions need to be asked, not out of disrespect, but because finding the right answer to these problems is more important than the perception that the hotels industry has self-interest."

He said venue operators were asking how regulations imposed by the state government related to Kelly's death, when the perpetrator had not consumed an alcoholic drink in Kings Cross, having "preloaded" and had one drink at Darling Harbour before his reign of terror began.

"The industry has argued over and over that preloading is an issue, yet we have been ignored," he said.

On that point, Mr O'Farrell agreed, saying the problem was "not just about alcohol. It's about alcohol and drugs. It is about culture, because as the Police Commissioner himself talks about, people are going out pre-fuelled.

"People are drinking at home before they go out so they're well on the way – well past the way – by the time they're getting to public premises'

"There is a drinking culture in this society, not just in NSW but across this country, that frankly is unacceptable. It's different to when I was growing up – and I'm not pretending to be perfect."

Challenged about what action he was taking to counter alcohol-fuelled violence, Mr O'Farrell rejected calls for widespread hotel lockouts, saying he would rely on advice from the police.

He said restrictions introduced at Kings Cross venues after Kelly's death had reduced alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour.

Hospitality minister George Souris said the government would continue to pursue a wide range of measures to combat alcohol-fuelled violence.

Mr Nicolaou said police were ignoring the association's calls for alcohol-free zones in Kings Cross to be enforced by uniformed officers and offers to pay for toxicology tests on perpetrators had also been declined.

"We need to ask ourselves why suddenly people are using alcohol as an excuse to commit random acts of violence, why it now seems acceptable to have a “brain snap” and belt someone," he said.

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said there was "no question" that preloading was a big factor in drunken violence. "There is no single problem, just as there is no single solution," he said.

"To counter and prevent that violence, in entertainment precincts such as Kings Cross where you have a high density of liquor licences and a concentration of large numbers of people, it requires a robust level of enforcement by police," Mr Scipione said.

"There is no question that preloading is a major problem contributing to drunken violence. It is a disturbing element but one of a number contributing to the problems police face with alcohol abuse.

"As a consequence we are seeing reductions in alcohol violence."

Mr Scipione said police had been criticised for strenuously upholding licensing conditions but would continue to enforce those conditions – and alcohol-free zones – as long as necessary.

"Ultimately, it's individuals taking responsibility for their own actions that can make the biggest impact. If people take that step, we would not have to deal with these problems in the way we do."

Read Mr Nicolaou's full comments: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/time-for-a-closer-look-at-violence-20130910-2thg1.html

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