Alcohol law review response questioned

SUCCESS: The city's current alcohol laws are a "life-saving package", Tony Brown says.
SUCCESS: The city's current alcohol laws are a "life-saving package", Tony Brown says.

A credibility gap is emerging in Newcastle City Council’s (NCC) response to the NSW government review of our life-saving package of alcohol laws. NCC’s submission says it is a “leader in collaborative (alcohol law) reforms and strategy”. The Lord Mayor rejected that the council was weakening the current conditions “our submission actual protects the lock out laws … we can make improvements by incentivising good operators”.

But NCC proposes an automatic increase in late trading hours for some pubs, a weakening of current drink strength controls and a desire to enable all venues to ultimately trade to 2am. Council will exempt individual licensees from the lockout laws for a “good record” while losing all sense of industry level responsibility and accountability. This will result in substantial increases in the volume and strength of alcohol supplied and consumed in the CBD. 

NCC adopted discredited alcohol/tobacco industry tactics of casting doubt on the reliability of existing harm research declared by Professor Wiggers (UoN) as “conclusive”. It failed to produce any independent research substantiating the effectiveness of its proposed neo-liberal “incentivisation”.

NCC’s alleged “collaboration” credentials demand closer scrutiny. While there were general broad discussions with key stakeholders, including the community, it’s understood the council failed to discuss its proposed complex incentivisation experiment with any of the key stakeholders, including senior police and health officials and internationally acknowledged local alcohol harm prevention academic experts. The likely reason was they didn’t want to share with councillors those organisations’ criticism of the NCC proposed replacement model.

Aggravating this failure was the withdrawal of the previous two offers by senior NCC management to present to councillors along with local AHA president Rolly De With. The reason offered for the cancellation was the belated unavailability of the AHA representative and a subsequent concern that representatives of emergency workers “in uniform” could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

It appears after councillors’ unanimous support for the NCC submission that none critically read the fine print and sought independent advice from the most trusted, independent and knowledgeable local leaders and experts. This is a serious breach of due diligence and governance owed to the community, especially given the current rate of reported non domestic assaults in the CBD is almost 10-times the NSW average.

This lack of genuine collaboration on the specifics with senior independent key stakeholders/residents erases any legitimate assertion by NCC that its submission to the review supported by the AHA represents the authentic views of the community.

When we call for urgent medical or police help for loved ones or neighbours we neither seek nor expect a “compromise” in the time and quality of the response. Neither should the NSW government or NCC compromise public and emergency worker safety to appease and placate the powerful alcohol industry by complex experiments ultimately serving one master.

The current conditions are already delivering unprecedented growth, diversity and business prosperity in the CBD, but still more evidence-based interventions are needed to address existing unacceptable alcohol harms.

Tony Brown is a community advocate for evidence based alcohol harm prevention