A Hunter study provides evidence to back retention of 'Newcastle solution' licensing laws

NEWCASTLE’S “last drinks” and “lockout” laws have led to a “significant and sustained” 31 per cent reduction in serious alcohol-related facial injury assault cases at John Hunter Hospital, a Hunter research team has found.

Serious facial injury assaults treated at the hospital increased at a rate of 14 per cent per year from 2003 to 2008 before the ‘Newcastle solution’ to violent incidents in the CBD was enacted, a report led by University of Newcastle conjoint professor and maxillofacial surgeon Gary Hoffman said.

The facial injury assault figure decreased at a rate of 21 per cent per year after 2008, leading to a 31 per cent relative reduction, the report Liquor legislation, last drinks and lockouts: the Newcastle solution said.

The study tested the “regional implementation” of laws to limit alcohol access on facial injury assault cases at John Hunter Hospital. It found the downward assault trend applied to all males aged 18-35.

“The introduction of ‘last drinks’ and ‘lockout’ legislation has led to a significant and sustained reduction in assaultive alcohol-related facial injury in Newcastle,” the study found.

The John Hunter figures were used by the Last Drinks Coalition, representing police, ambulance officers, doctors, nurses and other emergency workers, to call on NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to stop a review of the “Newcastle solution” laws announced by the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority on Tuesday at the request of the Australian Hotels Association.

Coalition spokesperson and NSW Police Association president Scot Weber described the snap review – without a public hearing, with a reporting deadline of December 22 and the final “stakeholder engagement” session with the Newcastle community scheduled for next Wednesday – as a “complete capitulation” by the NSW Government to the “booze lobby”.

“The Newcastle liquor laws are a case study in how effective liquor regulation can transform violent, blood soaked streets into a vibrant nightlife precinct that families and people of all ages can enjoy,” Mr Weber said.

The review had a “barely concealed agenda” of watering the laws down, he said.

Ms Berejiklian did not respond to Newcastle Herald questions which were referred to Minister for Racing Paul Toole. He “recognised the importance of the issue to the Newcastle community”.

“This is an independent process and there is no pre-determined outcome. We are confident the public will have the opportunity to have their say during the review process,” Mr Toole said.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics figures for Newcastle, based on police crime reports between 2000 and 2015, show a 64 per cent drop in non-domestic assault cases for Friday and Saturday nights between 2007-08 and 2014-15.

The data also shows significant drops in theft, malicious damage, drug and disorderly conduct reports, with thefts dropping from a high of 280 in 2000 and 270 in 2005, to 149 in 2007-08, 130 in 2008-09, and less than 100 theft reports for the first time in 15 years in 2014-15, when 82 thefts were recorded.

Malicious damage cases dropped from 113 in 2000 and a high of 260 in 2004-05, to 90 in 2007-08, 44 in 2012-13 and just 19 in 2015-16.

Disorderly conduct reports hit a high of 273 in 2007-08 and dropped to just 46 in 2015-16, although 198 disorderly conduct matters were reported in 2012-13, despite the lockout laws.

The Last Drinks Coalition argued the “Newcastle solution” had saved thousands of people from being assaulted, while encouraging the opening of many more licensed premises in the CBD area.

“There has been a 110 per cent increase in the number of licensed premises, mostly small bars and licensed restaurants in the CBD, which has significantly increased local jobs in the industry,” the coalition said.

“A Newcastle City Council survey found overwhelming community and patron support for the measures. The Newcastle suite of modest restrictions to trading hours has been recognised internationally as a model for sustained crime reduction.”