Newcastle Superintendent John Gralton says the evidence is in on alcohol trading hours and assaults

Opposed: Newcastle Superintendent John Gralton says he could recommend tightening licensed venue trading hours because of research on late trading and increased assaults. Picture: Marina Neil.
Opposed: Newcastle Superintendent John Gralton says he could recommend tightening licensed venue trading hours because of research on late trading and increased assaults. Picture: Marina Neil.

“I STRONGLY believe any relaxation of the current licensing conditions in Newcastle risks a big black eye for the city. I really do.”

Newcastle Superintendent John Gralton didn’t hold back after learning on Tuesday – along with the rest of the community – that licensing laws in place in Newcastle since 2008 are under review at the request of the Australian Hotels Association.

The city’s most senior police officer is against any changes, and could even ask for a tightening of trading hours because of clear links between post-midnight alcohol sales and increased assault rates. Research has shown a 20 per cent increase in assaults for every hour of trading after midnight.

“Given the opportunity for a review it might even be a case for reducing trade, given the evidence that’s out there. We might even suggest it might need to come back further,” Superintendent Gralton said.

He has called on members of the public, emergency service workers and people within the hotel industry who support the existing laws to make submissions to the snap NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority review, which has set a December 13 deadline for all written submissions and a December 22 reporting date for reviewer Jonathan Horton, QC.

He will meet next week with Mr Horton and argue that any relaxation of existing conditions is a “massive risk” for the city as it undergoes a revitalisation, in part because of the consequences of nearly a decade of liquor controls.

Superintendent Gralton started work in Newcastle in 2011. Police who worked in Newcastle before 2008 talked of going “from brawl to brawl to brawl to brawl”.

“The anecdotal stuff from the cops who were there before the lockout laws, that’s what really gets me. It really has made a huge difference. After the laws there was more time for police to address other issues,” he said.

Consequence policing was introduced, where “if people misbehaved in public with disorderly conduct or other related issues, they went home with a consequence”, Superintendent Gralton said.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures for Newcastle between 2000 and 2015 show a dramatic 64 per cent drop in non-domestic assaults in Newcastle on Friday and Saturday nights, but also significant declines in theft, malicious damage, disorderly conduct and drug offences.

“The big platform for the changes is the reduction in trade, the drink restrictions. The situation in Newcastle reached a crescendo in 2008 that led to the lockout laws, and then we saw a package of life and cost-saving conditions that has given us a city that’s now got a vibrancy,” Superintendent Gralton said.

“We’re running a massive risk if we wind back the clock.”