A new push will be launched today for earlier legal ‘last drinks’ and lockouts for licensed venues – like the conditions in Newcastle CBD, Sydney CBD and Kings Cross – to be rolled out across the state.
The NSW/ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance wants restrictions placed on pubs, clubs and bottle shops statewide as part of a suite of measures aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm.
The coalition is made up of 47 member organisations, including high profile groups such as the NSW Australian Medical Association, NSW Police Association, Cancer Council and Thomas Kelly Foundation – a group named after the victim of a fatal coward punch on the streets of Sydney. It will release a wide-ranging policy document today ahead of the March state election, which calls for the next NSW government to reduce alcohol-related health problems and grog-fuelled violence.
The move has drawn support from the health and law enforcement communities, but raised concern from business bodies that have seen the restrictions in play for a decade in Newcastle.
Tony Brown, a vocal supporter of the so-called ‘Newcastle solution’, is spearheading the push for NAAPA.
“Regional, rural and remote communities experience disproportionate levels of alcohol harm, with domestic assaults 12-times higher in rural and remote regions compared to NSW as a whole,” he said.
“The NSW government’s earlier last drinks and ‘one-way door’ measures … have been powerful and effective in reducing harms in prominent nightlife precincts in Sydney and Newcastle.
“These measures must now be rolled out statewide to deal with hotspots of alcohol-fuelled violence in other areas … where there are concentrations of late-trading pubs, clubs and bottle shops.”
Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education CEO Michael Thorn said the response to alcohol-related harm was a taxpayer cost that ran into billions of dollars each year.
Related reading: Newcastle’s top cop does not hold back on lockout law review
“Our political leaders have an opportunity to demonstrate strong and resolute leadership and tilt the balance back into the favour of the people of NSW and not the alcohol industry,” he said.
NAAPA’s policy document cited Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data that showed alcohol-related domestic assaults were up to 12.1 times higher in regional and remote NSW than in major cities.
It cited a Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education study that found alcohol was responsible for more than 40 emergency department presentations, 137 hospitalisations and four deaths in NSW each day.
Related reading: Newcastle’s lockout laws to be reviewed after nearly a decade
Aside from rolling out the Newcastle/Sydney CBD conditions statewide, the document called for a range of new measures to be introduced, including temporary moratoriums on new liquor licences in locations deemed to be “high risk”, a $30 million public awareness campaign over four years focusing on the long-term effects of alcohol, suspending internet liquor sales pending a review of responsible service of alcohol practices and banning buy-now-pay-later options for online grog purchases.
The policy platform also recommended mandated health messages on all forms of alcohol marketing, which would take up 20 per cent of the advertising space, and a ban on booze ads on public transport and other government property.
Related reading: Newcastle licensing restrictions to stay after Horton review
NSW Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Danielle McMullen said there had been a “significant health benefit from the lockout laws and trading conditions” in Newcastle and Sydney.
“We have seen a reduction in emergency department presentations and a reduction in ambulance attendances late at night,” she said.
“We like an evidence-based solution to reducing the harm from alcohol. Fortunately these changes have shown us that these conditions work. It should be part of a cultural change in our alcohol use.”
NAAPA said the “modest” measures introduced in Sydney CBD and Kings Cross in 2014 had “an immediate, dramatic and sustained impact”.
The Sydney laws came six years after restrictions were brought in for venues in the heart of Newcastle in 2008, which meant they had a “one way door” from 1am or 1.30am and were banned from selling alcohol after 3am or 3.30am.
Some regional centres already have similar rules in place – a one-way door policy was introduced in part of Albury CBD in 2006, a lockout began in Tamworth city centre in 2014 – though this was relaxed by 30 minutes to 1am at the end of 2017 – and restrictions are ongoing at Wagga Wagga.
Like in Sydney, the ‘Newcastle solution’ has attracted criticism from some corners.
Newcastle Tourism Industry Group chair Kent Warren said his organisation wanted to work with police and other officials to ensure the city was safe but “at the same time we need to make sure we’re sensible about it”.
“Generally, we do hear anecdotal feedback from people coming into the city that the earlier closing times are not what they’re used to back home and that Newcastle is a bit of a sleepy town,” he said.
“But the message from us is Newcastle is open and we want everyone to come and enjoy our city.”
Australian Hotels Association Newcastle/Hunter representative Rolly de With said Newcastle CBD venues should have their restrictions loosened if they display a good track record.
“We also want to see the continued reduction of alcohol-related harm in Newcastle and in NSW,” he said.
“Blanket restrictions are not the solution for Newcastle and not the solution for NSW. There should be local solutions, which will be far more effective for local problems.”
The Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority commissioned a review in 2017 at the AHA’s request, after the Sydney measures were relaxed in late 2016.
Barrister Jonathan Horton QC, who conducted the review, found the restrictions helped reduce alcohol-related crime in Newcastle and recommended no substantial changes.
Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes said addressing alcohol-related problems and anti-social behaviour should not be a “one-size-fits-all solution”.
“While Newcastle has experienced a positive change in the nightlife culture over the past decade, some businesses did not survive the changes introduced with the 2008 licensing regulations, and many responsible operators of small bars and licensed venues continue to be hamstrung by trading conditions that can make it difficult to run their businesses profitably,” he said.
“As a community, we need to strike a balance between reasonable regulation and personal responsibility if we want to have an environment that supports a healthy night-time and visitor economy.”
NSW Police Association northern region executive Ian Allwood said the lockout laws were crucial to community safety.
“Without sensible management, our streets will once again be flooded with alcohol-fuelled violence,” he said.
“We’ll see a dramatic increase in assaults, injuries and deaths. Our members will once again be taken away from tackling crime in our communities to contain the carnage and our hospital emergency departments will again overflow with young victims.”
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