Greens NSW MPs will vote against the O’Farrell government’s alcohol-related violence measures because they are unlikely to be effective and will impose on the lifestyle choices of responsible venue goers.
The Liquor Amendment Bill 2014 places onerous restrictions on revellers who are not violent, while rejecting more effective solutions that would antagonise the politically powerful alcohol industry.
Even if lockouts and last-drinks reduce street violence – and interpretations of the evidence are divided on this – limiting the application to the expanded CBD will only displace the problem to neighbouring venues.
Instead, the Greens will move a number of amendments that, based on the evidence, are likely to help reduce the toll of alcohol-related violence.
Greens NSW MP John Kaye said: “The Greens are voting against a package of measures that will not solve the problems of alcohol-related violence but will make life much harder for the vast majority of law-abiding late-night patrons.
“The evidence on lockouts and last drinks is at best mixed and it does not provide sufficient reason for imposing restrictions that are a form of collective punishment on responsible venue goers.
“Reducing the incidence of violence is not a simple problem that can be solved by headlines.
“If the O’Farrell government had been prepared to take on the industry, the venues would have been forced to fund serious enforcement of responsible service of alcohol. There would have been real action to address dangerous promotions and deep discounting.
“The expanded CBD will become an exit zone at 3 am, with surrounding neighbourhoods taking the brunt of an influx of patrons seeking late-night venues.
“Surry Hills, Chippendale, Bondi Junction and Balmain will become late night hot spots with even more problems than Kings Cross and the CBD.
“Unlike the O’Farrell government, we go to the heart of the problem: dangerous promotions and deep discounting, failure to enforce Responsible Service of Alcohol, excessive liquor outlet densities and the inevitable consequences of a limited zone of application of last drinks.
“The effectiveness of the Premier’s community awareness program will be compromised by the O’Farrell government’s failure to act against dangerous promotions of alcohol.
“Shopper dockets offering alcohol purchase inducements, two-for-one deals, deep discounting of packaged alcohol and promotions aimed at young people will continue with very few restrictions.
“All of these were within the O’Farrell government’s ability to curtail and each of them will contribute to a terribly mixed message.
“If the O’Farrell government spent now on drug and alcohol counselling and youth mental health services, they would save more in the long run from the reduction in expenditure on the state’s criminal justice, health and prison systems.
“A good place to start addressing the social causes of dangerous alcohol consumption would be to reinstate the Drug and Alcohol Unit within the Department of Education and to employ more counsellors in public schools.
“Rural and regional communities can rightly feel deserted by a government that was driven by headlines, not evidence. Many have been struggling with late night venue-related violence. We want to empower those communities to develop solutions that work for them.
“Every parent will be looking for a safe return home for their children. The evidence says this is best done by changing the culture with a ban on dangerous promotions and deep discounting and cracking down on advertising,” Dr Kaye said.
For more information: John Kaye 0407 195 455.
For details on other aspects of the O’Farrell government package:
David Shoebridge (Justice) 0408 113 952
Mehreen Faruqi (Transport) 0402 118 350
(a PDF of this document can be found here: br140129_Greens propose positive alcohol measures_v2)
The O’Farrell government’s package
- Licence operating restrictions in the expanded CBD precinct (which includes Kings Cross, Oxford St, Darlinghurst and the CBD) that apply to all venues except the casinos, certain hotel bars, restaurants and small bars:
- 1.30 am lockouts and 3 am last drinks and
- freeze on venue liquor licences,
- 10 pm closing for bottle shops and liquor stores,
- periodic licencing, requiring each licence to be renewed each year, but without any assessment or impediment for venues that fail to control excessive alcohol consumption and violent behaviour,
- risk-based licence fees, where “higher fees will be imposed on premises that have later trading hours, poor compliance histories and/or are situated in high-risk locations. Premises will have the ability to reduce their level of fees through improved compliance.”
- a binge drinking community awareness campaign,
- Free buses every 10 min from Kings Cross to Town Hall and Central,
- punitive criminal law measures, including:
- Mandatory minimum sentences, and
- 20 yrs for possession of steroids.
The Liquor Amendment Bill 2014 includes specific provisions for the first two points and creates the legislative framework needed to introduce periodic licence fees and risk-based licencing through the regulations. The Bill also gives the Director General of the Department the authority to include or exclude premises within the restrictions as he/she sees fit.
The mixed track record of restricting venue hours
(See Appendix 1 for details)
While a number of Australian jurisdictions have trialled or introduced permanent restrictions on the hours of licensed operation or lockouts, the track record is quite mixed.
Much is made of the Newcastle experience, where assaults seem to have been reduced by 37 percent. Concerns however have been raised about increases in domestic violence rates.
Even accepting that the measures in Newcastle were successful, the relevance of this experience to the expanded Sydney CBD is at best tenuous.
A QUT study, for example, found that the application of lockouts on the Gold Coast had a similar performance to Newcastle. However the results of the same restrictions in in Fortitude Valley, which is analogous to Kings Cross, showed little improvement in violence and, by some measures, made matters much worse.
An investigation reported in the Newcastle Herald found that although lockouts and last drinks are said to have contributed to the decrease in assaults in Newcastle, similar levels of reductions in alcohol-related violence were also found in areas such as Penrith, Wollongong and Sutherland Shire. None of these areas had lockouts or last drinks but still managed similar or greater reductions in assaults as Newcastle.
Similarly, a trial in Melbourne produced results that contained both increases and decreases in different types of violence.
Displacement: the elephant in the room
Even if the data suggests that lockouts and last drinks work, and this is a big if, the application to the expanded CBD is very likely to see a 3 am exodus of patrons across the borders and into late night venues in the surrounding areas.
Far from reducing street violence, the movement of a large number of people into new venues is likely to increase the incidence of violence in the precinct and in the surrounding suburbs.
Suburbs such as Balmain, Surry Hills, Chippendale and Bondi Junction are likely to be in the direct firing line. The licensees of some venues outside the area but near the borders have already contacted the Greens expressing their concerns that they will face increased violence after 3 am.
Premier O’Farrell has said that if this is a problem he will expand the borders. This is of little comfort in the meantime and condemns Sydney to a series of ever expanding areas of application and a slow-moving wavefront of 3 am violence.
Exemptions for the casinos make little sense and will result in an influx to the Star at 3 am with impacts on violence and street behaviour.
Impacts on young people and the music industry
The measures are seen by many as collective punishment, made worse by their disproportionate impact on low income young people.
While patrons who can afford the higher costs of alcohol at small bars can continue drinking after 3 am, those who cannot will be effectively left without access to venues.
Concerns have also been raised by the live music industry that opportunities for late night performances are being driven out of the CBD, Darlinghurst and Kings Cross. An industry that is already struggling will be further disadvantaged by measures that could have little or no impact on violence.
The Greens approach
The Greens believe that the objectives of any response should be to:
¨ Promote evidence-based, socially equitable solutions that reduce the harm caused by alcohol and other drugs while
¨ not restricting the ability of responsible users to engage in entertainment at times appropriate to lifestyle choices.
The O’Farrell government’s package fails both tests.
Instead the Greens, are proposing a package of measures, some of which can be moved as amendments to the Bill and others will be promoted separately.
Measures (not within the Bill):
¨ Improved enforcement of Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) with better resources:
- In 2011-12, the NSW police branch responsible for enforcement of alcohol licencing laws (ALEC) had a budget of only $2.5 million for preventative measures that addressing a problem that the NSW Auditor-General estimates costs NSW government services more than $1 billion a year.
- The Greens believe that this simple preventative measure that would see venues forced to conform with the existing laws against serving alcohol to people who are already intoxicated, would be more effective than all of the punitive measures proposed by the O’Farrell government.
¨ Enforcement of RSA by rangers employed by OLGR or councils, but paid for by money collected from venues.
- The emphasis should be on policing venues, not punishing responsible patrons.
- The burden should fall on the licensees, not bar staff.
¨ Regulating alcohol advertising and promotions.
- The effectiveness of the community awareness program announced with the package of reforms will be compromised by the O’Farrell government’s failure to act against dangerous promotions of alcohol.
- Shopper dockets offering alcohol purchase inducements such as two-for-one deals, deep discounting of package alcohol and promotions aimed at young people will continue with very few restrictions. All of these were within the O’Farrell government’s ability to curtail and each of them will contribute to a terribly mixed message.
- Federal measures restricting alcohol advertising are also essential.
¨ Reduce the density of outlets and venues in those venues where violence is a particular
- Identify precincts with high prevalence of domestic violence and freeze liquor outlets. Seek opportunities to reduce existing densities.
- Identify areas of frequent street violence and anti-social behaviour and freeze licence numbers and sizes. Seek opportunities to reduce existing densities.
¨ Re-establish the Drug and Alcohol unit within Department of Education
- The Minister for Education is to reinstate a Drug and Alcohol Unit within the Department of Education and Communities to have the same functions and establishment size (permanent positions, not people employed) as that which existed at 1 January 2011.
¨ Publication of liquor density research
- The Minister for Hospitality is to make public the all reports to the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing by the Allen Consulting Group on their research into the cumulative impact of licensed premises in NSW.
- The Minister is also to make public all details of the EVAT tool.
¨ Make periodic licencing effective
- After each period of five years, the Director-General is to invite public submissions before renewing any liquor licence.
- The Director General is to take into account all public submissions before renewing a liquor licence.
- Where a licence has attracted more than 100 submissions opposed to renewal or where more than 50 percent of submissions oppose renewal and the Director General determines that the licence is to be renewed, the Director General is to provide reasons in writing as to why the licence should be renewed.
Measures (within the Bill):
¨ Strengthening the Liquor accords
- Membership of Local Liquor Accords to be compulsory for all licenced venues and outlets within the area
- Revenue collected by the Local Liquor Accord (s. 136 of the Liquor Act) to be available to local councils for the purposes of mitigating the impacts of alcohol consumption and addressing the costs of the impacts.
- The maximum fee for a licence renewal is to be set at the rate of 5 percent of the takings on alcohol sales in the previous licencing period.
- The amount paid is to be reduced by the factors that are specified in the bill.
¨ Regional Alcohol Management Plans
- Each local council that is not within the Sydney Region may apply in writing to the Director-General for approval of a Local Alcohol Management Plan.
- Before doing so, the council is to have
- placed on exhibition a draft plan and to have taken measures, to the satisfaction of the Director-General, to have encouraged public comment and participation in the development of the final plan
- placed on exhibition the final plan and taken measures to the satisfaction of the Director-General, to determine public support for the plan, including amongst young people living within the council area
- A Local Alcohol Management Plan may contain any of the following measures:
- Restrictions on the hours of sale of alcohol
- Restrictions on the hours of operations of venues
- A freeze on the issuing of new venue licences
- A freeze on new liquor shop licences
- Transport measures that assist in the reduction of street violence
- Community education, drug and alcohol counselling and plans for mental health services that would, in the opinion of the council, assist in reducing the incidence of alcohol related violence
- Data collection and the assessment of effectiveness of the measures in the Plan in reducing alcohol-related violence
- An indicative annual budget for the measures
- An indication of how the plan is to be funded from compulsory contributions under the Liquor Accord.
Appendix 1: The mixed track record of licence hours restrictions
Lockouts have been either trialled or permanently introduced in several other jurisdictions around Australia with mixed results.
Both supporters and opponents of lockouts can point to evidence to back up their claims about their effectiveness.
The so-called “Newcastle solution” refers to the decision in March 2008 by the New South Wales judiciary to restrict pub closing times to 3 a.m., and later 3.30 a.m., in the central business district (CBD) of Newcastle.
A University of Newcastle study of the impacts of the lockouts indicated that the restriction in pub closing times to 3/3.30 a.m. in Newcastle produced a reduction in assault incidence of 37%.
However, the report also states that in the first two quarters after the lockouts took effect, assaults increased in the control area relative to the preceding two quarters.
It is also important to note that this study was restricted to non-domestic violence incidents that were reported to or detected by police.
Impacts on the levels of domestic violence in the Newcastle area, for example, are not known.
A recent report in the Newcastle Herald also cast doubt on the causal link between the reduction in alcohol related violence and the licencing restrictions.
The report, using Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research found that for the period from September 2008 to September 2013 crime fell in:
¨ Newcastle by almost 30 per cent
¨ Penrith by 56.16 per cent
¨ Wollongong by 30.97 per cent
¨ Sutherland Shire by 47.7 per cent
¨ Gosford by 28.8 per cent
Four other precincts reported reductions in violent crime by the same or larger amounts without resorting to lockouts and last drinks.
It is thus difficult to assert that these measures were solely responsible for the supposed success of the Newcastle solutions.
A Queensland University of Technology report analysed and compared the 3 am lockouts introduced in the Gold Coast and Brisbane City and Fortitude Valley in 2004.
The Gold Coast experience was very similar to Newcastle in that the study found that overall there were significantly less alcohol-related incidents after the lockout was introduced.
Results for the Fortitude Valley and Brisbane City were mixed. While there were 29% less alcohol-related disturbances/disputes during the 12 am to 3 am time period, both areas experienced a significant increase (33.8%) during the 3 am to 6 am time period.
A number of people were recorded by the qualitative aspect of the study as stating that they believed that the lockout had created behavioural problems for two time periods (3 am and 5 am) in relation to patrons trying to gain access to licensed premises or trying to obtain a taxi.
Previously there was only one time period (5 am) in which most behavioural problems occurred.
A key observation in the QUT report is that the lockout policy was introduced in the Gold Coast following a lengthy consultation process initially coordinated by the local council in the Gold Coast area.
In contrast the lockout strategy in Brisbane City/Fortitude Valley was introduced in the context of media publicity, just as it has been in NSW this month.
Overall the QUT report significantly undermines the case for lockouts noting that: “while this study demonstrated some meagre positive results, some major category of offences typically involving alcohol remained unaffected by the lockout.”
A temporary lockout in Melbourne was trialled from June to September 2008 preventing licensees from allowing patrons to enter or re-enter the premises after 2am. The decision impacted on approximately 487 late-night venues across four Local Government Areas.
The KPMG evaluation report noted that there was a number of positive trends during the three-month period, including a roughly 23.9% reduction in total reported assaults across the City of Melbourne during certain periods of the temporary lockout.
However, the study also found an increase in reported assaults between the hours of midnight and 2am when compared to the corresponding period the year before, and a small increase compared to the lead-in period. It was a similar story for the period between 2am and 3.59am.
The lockout trial also saw an increase in assault-related ambulance transports between 8pm and midnight and alcohol-related presentations as a proportion of total hospital emergency presentations on Friday and Saturday nights across the whole of metropolitan Melbourne increased.
Stakeholders consistently reported that there was insufficient and inadequate public transport and taxis available during the temporary lockout period.
To underline the mixed results of lockouts in all jurisdictions, the KPMG report also noted that it was “extremely difficult to reach conclusive findings in this evaluation” due to the high number of exemptions granted to venues in the Melbourne trial.
An uncontested fact though is that the Victorian government chose not to extend the Melbourne lockouts experiment. The level of violence that occurred during the trial prompted a member of the taskforce appointed to advise the government on the future of the trial to call it “a pretty unmitigated failure.”
Professor Robin Room from the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, also a taskforce member, said the policy came as a surprise saying “there’s very little literature to prove that this works.”
In many ways the Melbourne experiment with lockouts should be the most relevant to the Sydney CBD entertainment precincts.
 http://www.theherald.com.au/story/1223364/liquor-licence-findings-on-hold/ ; http://johnkaye.org.au/alcohol-industry-denies-bottle-shop-density-link-to-domestic-violence/ ; http://johnkaye.org.au/bermagui-woolies-will-bring-more-alcohol-related-violence/
 http://johnkaye.org.au/review-of-liquor-act-passes-the-buck-on-dangerous-advertising/ ; http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/riskbased-licence-fees-in-proposed-liquor-law-changes-20131213-2zcfr.html http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/safer-sydney-bigger-fees-for-risky-venues-20140119-312tf.html