THE HERALD'S OPINION: AHA and its critics at odds over Horton review

THANKS to his ceaseless campaigning against the ill-effects of alcohol, community representative Tony Brown has made himself one of this region’s most well-known, and controversial, characters.

He was there when the 2008 package of laws usually known as “the Newcastle solution” were put into place, and he’s stayed on the job ever since, working with a widening group of academics, police, doctors, nurses and ambulance staff to highlight the various impacts of excessive alcohol consumption, and earning the ire of the liquor industry’s peak body, the Australian Hotels Association, along the way.

His main adversary in all of this is the Newcastle president of the AHA, Rolly de With, an experienced hotelier who was also involved in the industry when the changes were made.

Mr de With is adamant that there is nothing extraordinary about the review of the Newcastle solution now being conducted by Sydney QC Jonathan Horton, and that the AHA realises that things cannot return to “the way things were” before 2008.

The main part of its claim involves moving the restrictions on doubles and shots from 10pm to midnight, and exempting a list of cocktails – as allowed in the corresponding Sydney conditions – that can be sold despite the restrictions on other drinks.

But the AHA also wants individual venues to be able to apply for exemptions to the Newcastle lockout laws, and it is this claim, as much as any, that has Mr Brown’s hackles up.

He argues that the Newcastle solution has worked as well as it has at least partly because it has applied to every venue in town.

Although the 2008 restrictions only applied in name to 15 venues – of which 14 remain today – Mr Brown says the conditions applied to all licensed venues in the CBD, either through their council approvals or their liquor licences.

He fears that ending this across-the-board parity would be the beginning of the end for a safe night in the city, with more and more venues likely to push for the exemptions given to their competitors.

With so many competing claims going into this debate – not least being the AHA disputing the link between the lockout and falling assault rates – Mr Horton will need the wisdom of Solomon to winnow fact from fiction.

As we said last year when the review was announced, there will need to be very good reasons indeed to tinker with the laws that put an end to a bloody period in our city’s history.

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