Unabashed political lobbying was the order of yesterday in the Daily Telegraph, as the CEO of St Vincent’s Health pleaded with both parties ahead of policy announcements.
Toby Hall is obviously a health-care professional that rightly abhors violence and physical assault, but the fact cherry-picking reached new heights as emotional blackmail and statistical errors were cited as justification for “the number one priority of our political representatives”.
The self-confessed “estimates” of St Vincent’s hospital have risen to a shock-value 50 per cent, which despite the overwhelming point of the article actually demonstrates their crushing ineffectiveness.
In a recent interview with Doug Grand of the Kings Cross Liquor Accord, PubTIC was told some of the devastating damage that has befallen the celebrated “party precinct”.
“It’s a ghost town, as reported by many media outlets who have come to Kings Cross in the early hours of the morning and been amazed at the lack of foot traffic.
“The latest bout of restrictions have affected the whole local economy, which was built over many decades as a late-night entertainment district. And not just bars – small shops, every type of business is for lease or the landlords have to prop them up by rental relief or abatement. That is the current reality.
“The fact is, depending on the type of business, trade is down anything from 24-80 per cent. Anyone over 40 per cent down has probably closed.”
Trade loss has already claimed plenty of innocent victims, but none so tragic as Chris Cheung’s The Bourbon, which boldly hoped to offer a new level of respectability to Kings Cross, but now stands to become merely more inner-city apartments.
Hence the fallacy of the trade restrictions’ “success” – there is no tangible benefit if all the restrictions have done is keep people away. Instead, people will still perpetrate their tendencies for the abuse of alcohol and whatever other catalyst drugs trigger these random violence incidents unsupervised, in homes and other uncontrolled environments.
Hall pleads with politicians to “take all reasonable steps to protect the public and save lives”, citing confidence in the upcoming BOCSAR figures analysing the 12-month data on the restrictions, before quoting figures that “nearly five children” are admitted to hospital every day for injuries caused by their parents’ drinking or their own.
It should be noted the current BOCSAR research in fact shows that the rates of violent offences in venues have been dropping consistently for more than a decade. Greater Sydney has averaged a drop of 2.3 per cent yearly, the Sydney CBD 2.1 per cent and all Sydney districts are marked as either “stable” or experiencing drops of 2.1 – 6.4 per cent. (continues below)
Conversely, traditionally problematic areas that do not have the “lockout” restrictions, such as Penrith and Blacktown, have seen drops in the rates of alcohol-related violence of more than 50 per cent, as a result of initiatives between licensed venues and local police.
But association with domestic violence and child abuse – both vicariously and directly by alcohol – highlights the blurring of the lines in the anti-liquor arguments, and in the case of Mr Hall’s article leads into the thinly veiled agenda often echoed in these debates: people’s right to choice is in question.
Hall suggests “Something’s clearly gone wrong in our society’s relationship with alcohol.” Unlike street drugs such as ice (crystal meth) or any of the steroid or tranquiliser-based concoctions available illicitly, alcohol has a long record of behaviour.
How can anyone in the name of science and good-conscience think that it is the “relationship with alcohol” that has changed?
Hall goes on to suggest “we need more than self-regulation and well-meaning awareness campaigns to restore balance.” Are we now considering another prohibition era? Unless mistaken, literature on that period in America pretty firmly suggests it was unsuccessful.
The CEO of St Vincent’s Health – Australia’s largest Catholic not-for-profit health and aged care provider – cited figures that the “healthcare costs of alcohol in NSW are close to $600 million, including hospitalisations, ambulance and aged care”.
The CEO of the Kings Cross Liquor Accord quoted figures that the measure of Sydney’s night-time economy (NTE) in 2013 was $102 billion, through 16.6 per cent of Australian firms, which employ nearly 26 per cent of the population – 2.977 million people (directly and indirectly).
Studies in Australia, the USA and UK show that the NTE delivers 10 – 20 times cost-to-benefit ratio. [Australian NTE Economic Performance, 2009-2013. National Local Drug and Alcohol Committee.]
And it’s being crushed by mis-guided blame for violence and alcohol-abuse, despite the fact that 78 per cent of alcohol is sold off-premise.
Hall calls to further the restrictions, which have come to be summarized by “the lockouts”, across the State, on the basis that “the evidence is there”. He offered the anecdotal evidence of the “lower levels of intoxication and violence” experienced, although – after much debate – the 1:30 am lockout restriction was in fact waived for that night.
The original Bill introduced to Kings Cross in 2012 by then Minister for Hospitality, George Souris, was to conduct regular reviews for effectiveness. Not only have these not happened, the first two rounds of restrictions on the precinct weren’t even given time to be measured before the third wave of punishment hit both it and the CBD.
Grand reiterated the cruelty of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution that has career hospitality workers and operators literally hitting the streets.
“It was never a fair and level playing field, especially for the many well run venues that were recognised as having best practice harm minimisation,” laments Grand.
“I don’t understand why they have it so one-sided. We need employment, there are no venues in the Kings Cross precinct on Level 1 or 2 strike restrictions, and at the end of the day my firm belief is that ‘public space issues’ remain the subject of further concern – albeit that the effectiveness of the mandatory sentencing laws introduced should not be underestimated in the further drop seen in BOCSAR data.
“There is simply no fairness in the current restrictions. The investment of many millions have been made by quality operators that had a solid vision of where they were trying to position the entertainment district for the better over a period of time.
“They have been forced to reduce employment numbers to attempt to remain viable. Ordinary people have lost their jobs – estimated at over 500 in the KX Precinct. Indirect jobs would make this even higher.
“The policy measures are ‘unbalanced’ … all and sundry want safety as a priority; the journey to that balance should be undertaken with more fairness and equity in a mature review of the actual facts.”
It should be noted that the restrictions on Sydney’s CBD and Kings Cross Entertainment precincts – over-simplified by the “lockouts” catch-phrase, in fact include:
- ‘Round the clock’ incident registers
- Notification of violent incidents to police
- Exclusion of persons seen drinking, or with open alcohol, on approach to the venue if the venue is located in or near an alcohol-free zone or an alcohol-prohibited area
- Exclusion of outlaw motorcycle-related gangs from licensed premises
- Certain drinks and other types of liquor sales prohibited during the late trading period
- Certain promotional activity prohibited
- Updated RSA training requirements (as at 1 October 2014)
Kings Cross enjoys even greater restrictions, including the use of RSA marshals and the exclusion of glassware.