SO-CALLED VIOLENT VENUES’ CARNAGE CONTINUES

In News & Releases by Clyde Mooney

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The latest Liquor & Gaming Violent Venues list continues to plunder the named and shamed, further highlighting a responsibility on the regulator to ensure it represents actual problem venues.

The 15 NSW hotels cited on the bi-annual Violent Venues list are located predominantly in Sydney (9 venues), with the Central Coast and North Coast each claiming two, one for the Gong and one for the far west of the State.

Since its release last week, their presence on the list has been rehashed through a succession of smear headlines across the State, generally courtesy of a local publication read by people that know and potentially patronise the pub named.

Out the same day as the news from L&G, quick off the mark was the St George Leader, noting Laundy Group’s Northies, citing 13 incidents for the big-format beachside pub, but failing to mention its Highly Commended for Best Sports Bar at last year’s AHA NSW Awards for Excellence.

Similarly, the Newcastle Herald featured a headline of Campbell Rogers’ “Sydney Junction Hotel … named in Liquor and Gaming violent venues list” following its recent renovation and rise to become one of the hottest places in town. The Sydney Junction also received a Highly Commended at the AHA NSW 2016 Awards, also not mentioned.

The Central Western Daily burned a local with headline “Pub shamed Hotel Orange named on violent venues list” despite going on to explain that the current management had begun just last December, at the end of the reporting period.

And in the north, the Coffs Coast Advocate told of the two “Coffs pubs make ‘violent’ list” and they’re “dishonourable mentions” for each accumulating 12 incidents.

The weekend saw little respite for the shaming, as the Illawarra Mercury called out “Wollongong’s Grand Hotel on violent venues list”, stating it had been “named among the state’s most violent venues”. Specifying the exact address, the article explained that ‘The Grand’ is the “only Illawarra nightspot” to make the low grade.

Back to business on Monday, the Parramatta Advertiser showed no mercy for local business Iris’ PJ’s Irish Pub, warning it had been “put on notice with top violence tally”. PJ’s 16 incidents had made it the “most violent venue in Sydney’s west” and perpetuated how it has “consistently topped the biannual list over the past few years”.

Thankfully, the Central Coast Gosford Express Advocate had some sympathy for Erina’s Sunken Monkey, leading with the fact that its owner says the list is “unfair to bigger venues”. Co-owner David Roy was cited reporting 10,000 people a month through the hotel, describing their introduction of ID scanners, and suggesting at least some of the incidents were spill-over from “another venue”. But no credit was given for the pub’s accolades at last year’s Awards for Excellence, where it took the coveted 2016 AHA NSW Hotel of Year – Country.

The Newcastle Herald also presented some mitigation, reporting that ‘the owner’ defends its entry to the list, also on the basis of patronage, noting the 300,000 patrons through the Sydney Junction during 2016.

Rogers stated he employs 20 guards on Saturday nights, and patrons report their appreciation of it as a “big, safe and open venue”.

Unsurprisingly, the multi-award-winning and industry trailblazing ivy was branded in every article for being the only Level 1 venue named, with no context or acknowledgement of its 2,000,000 annual patrons.

Speaking of the list, Liquor and Gaming NSW deputy secretary Paul Newson has offered that numbers for listed venues fluctuate. Were the list calculated according to a rate per number of people, as pleaded for by industry, statistical analysis would rightly dismiss these fluctuations as ‘insignificant’ in the majority of instances.

Newson noted the longer-term downward trend of violence, and coupled the Violent Venues list with the 82 per cent reduction in incidents in venues since its inception in 2008.

BOCSAR also reports a State-wide reduction in the category of non-domestic violence over the same period (2008-2016 inclusive) – but a fraction of the change seen in venues, at 31.8 per cent.

PubTIC asked the Office of Minister for Racing, Paul Toole, why the Violent Venues list continues to not include patron numbers, clearly out-of-step with data presented by BOCSAR, the agency that provides it with the crime statistics.

The Minister’s Office would not be drawn directly on whether the scheme would be reviewed, as it recently did with the dreaded 3 Strikes system, addressing years of outcry by industry, but a spokesperson for the Minster did not rule it out.

“Liquor & Gaming NSW regularly engages with licensed venues and industry bodies on a wide range of policy measures including the violent venues scheme.

“The agency also undertakes regular reviews of policies and practices to ensure they remain as effective as possible.”

While the existing system continues to vilify the likes of ivy, slammed for going from 0.9 incidents per 100,000 people last report, to 1.8 incidents per 100,000 people, venues with smaller numbers and proportionally higher rates of violence will continue to not be identified to the public.

It hardly seems incentive for an operation that already spends over $2 million annually on security and risk mitigation to be widely broadcast as the ‘State’s most dangerous’.

And for venues experiencing changing circumstances, such as new ownership or a shift in popularity, the past is viewed, like the Minister says, as “not a factor”.

“The tolerance is so low and the wording of `violent venue list’ is probably not appropriate,” lamented Sunken Monkey’s David Roy.

Non-domestic crime in NSW for 2016. Image: BOCSAR