Authorities have released the 1800+ submissions made to the Review on Sydney’s ‘lockouts’ and trade restrictions, with all but a few stakeholders failing to even address the real issue.
In line with the dirge of media and commentary emanating from the champions of public health and perceived morality, many of the submissions focused on the “undeniable” reduction in violence throughout Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD since the 1:30 lockouts and 3am cessation regulations were introduced in February, 2014.
Hand-picked statistics are typically trotted out, citing 32 per cent drop in incidents in Kings Cross and 26 per cent in the CBD, and 25 per cent reduction in alcohol-related admissions at St Vincent’s. Many entries referenced the golden, always unqualified “international evidence” of the wisdom of reducing trading hours.
But as always, the comparative figures of up to 80 per cent reduction in patronage in Kings Cross and 50 per cent in the CBD are omitted, proving only that if you take up to 8 out of 10 people away you get something like a 1 in 4 reduction in violent incidents.
Those in favour of keeping the reforms pronounce the importance of laws protecting citizens from the evils of alcohol, and that the majority of people want this, even though The Socialites submitted results of a survey involving 23,530 (mostly from Sydney) that overwhelmingly (84 per cent) say the reforms were unjustified.
A number of submissions endorsed the immediate removal or systemic overhaul of the trade restrictions, including the AHA NSW, which put forward a comprehensive 41-page document detailing much of the politics and flawed reasoning that saw the policies hurriedly slapped in place to appease media in a slow news month and a very vocal minority looking to assault the alcohol industry at an opportune moment.
Refreshingly, there were definitely those that took a holistic approach, offering financial and statistical evidence and comparable examples that addressed the unintended consequences of the reforms. One of these was the world’s leading drinks company, Diageo, who told PubTIC its policy of endorsing responsible drinking and the night-time economy was in conflict with the approach taken by government.
“We are concerned that in the pursuit of creating a safer Sydney, the liquor laws introduced in February 2014 have contributed to the destruction of Sydney’s night time economy without addressing the root cause of violence and anti‐social behaviour.
“The approach taken has been to tar everyone with the same brush, assuming all patrons are capable of violence and that all hoteliers are irresponsible operators, neither of which is true. We believe Sydney, like so many other great cities, can have both a safe and a vibrant night time economy and that these two aims are not mutually exclusive.”
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties goes further to suggest the reforms did not address one of their primary objectives: to address community perceptions about violence.
“We question whether the measures are suitable in order to reinforce to the community that alcohol-fuelled violence will not be tolerated.
“While it is possible that the measures have had some effect in changing behaviours associated with alcohol-fuelled violence, they do nothing to change individuals’ attitudes towards violence.”
The NSWCCL would like to see the current measures repealed, and a formalised proportionality framework put in place to assess any measures for the future.
“Limiting access to alcohol may be one piece of the puzzle, but changing attitudes to violence is another. In our view, the former has been zealously pursued, while the latter has fallen into the ‘too hard’ basket.”
Filtering the noise and politics from the equation, this is certainly the violent elephant in the room, as decades of failure in the war on drugs and philosophy of prohibition have shown that denying people their vice of choice does little or nothing to change their attempts to indulge in that vice.
Few organisation submissions made any reference to illicit drugs, despite BOCSAR statistics indicating use has increased.
Sadly, such incomplete submissions included NSW Police, which even boasted it has now increased the Kings Cross drug unit from 3 to 8 officers and twice referenced in their submission former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s statement about addressing “continued drug and alcohol-fuelled attacks”.
Also the National Drug Research Institute, which seemingly contradicted itself by referencing “international evidence” that reducing availability of alcohol reduces related problems, including violence, while also submitting that “scientific evaluation” of lockout laws showed they “had no significant impact on crime, violence, injury and intoxication”. But no reference to illicit drugs whatsoever.
IN FAVOUR OF LOCKOUTS
It may come as no surprise that The Star made a submission to the Callinan Review, taking opportunity to state its own exemplary behaviour – whilst disputing the official figures on violence in and around the venue by BOCSAR. Twice the in-house statistics of 64 incidents in 2014 versus 52 in 2015 are used, with no apparent irony as to those numbers in relation to those of pubs penalised under the OLGR violent venues scheme – requiring just 19 incidents to be on tier one restrictions.
BOCSAR recently released that for 2014 and 2015 violent incidents at The Star numbered 85 and 86 – somewhat in contradiction to the casino’s statement that “Since the commencement of the lockouts, there has been a downward trend in the number of incidents at The Star”.
The casino goes on to offer that it has voluntarily implemented “The prevention of individuals showing signs of intoxication from entry” and “Cessation of live music in the Sports Bar in early mornings to discourage late night revellers”. The Sports Bar actually never closes, but bands cease in Rock Lily at 3am Friday nights, 5am Saturday nights, and 3am Sunday nights – to keep late-night revellers unsatisfied.
Other statistically dubious submissions included the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), which presented a chart showing how risky drinking had increased in all age brackets except under 18s. The chart (pictured) drew confidently from the AIHW National Drug Strategy Household Survey of 2007.
Inconveniently, the AIHW National Drug Strategy Household Survey of 2013 showed that this trend reversed in 2010 and has continued to do so since.
While perspectives may be influenced in one direction or another, a broad overview of the situation may in fact be some way of getting to the heart of what matters.
What was the primary objective of the reforms?
To reduce violence in the CBD and Kings Cross
|Have the reforms done this?||Yes|
|How?||Massive reduction in patronage|
|How have they affected the proportion of violence?||Significant increase in ratio per capita|
What is the root cause of the problem?
Propensity for violence by percentage of population
|What are the influences?||Alcohol, drugs, societal culture of violence, social discontent|
|Have the measures affected this?||No|
|How do business operators affect the root causes?||Regulated environment for alcohol consumption. No influence on other factors.|
Here are some further relevant points made by some of those supporting removal or changes to the trade restrictions on licensed venues and bottle shops.
As the owner/operator of the Kings Cross Hotel and several venues in the areas surrounding the restricted precincts, Solotel has a somewhat unique perspective on the situation.
It reported – offering accounting figures if required – that the Kings Cross Hotel has seen:
- Profit (EBITDA) drop 82 per cent and falling
- Liquor sales drop 46 per cent
- Door takings drop 84 per cent
- Staff employment reduced 500 hours per week
- Security reduced 250 hours per week
- DJs reduced over 70 hours per week
- Formerly 12 bands played per week – currently none and FBI Social (launch pad for new bands) closed
- Four out of seven bars permanently closed. All used to all be open every night
The group also notes:
- The cost of ongoing compliance: ID scanners at $3,850 / month, RSA marshalls, specialty drinkware, CCTV – 76 cameras
- Since Solotel acquired (2010) the venue, it has never been on the violent venue list
- The hotel has never received infringements for intoxication or violence
- The Bank Hotel (Newtown): sales increase of 90 per cent
- Golden Sheaf (Double Bay): sales increase of 10 per cent
Potts Point Partnership
Living in the heart of the most strangled area, the PPP recognises the historic nature of the Kings Cross entertainment precinct, and embraces its proper management.
It has previously, at times in conjunction with the Kings Cross Liquor Accord, advocated for:
- Increased high-visibility policing
- Increased and more effective public transport
- Secure taxi ranks in key areas
- Turning Darlinghurst Rd into a pedestrian mall
- Increased CCTV presence
- Development of a Precinct Management Committee to coordinate the area
It is perhaps indicative of the broader assessment of government handling of the situation that this list of considered suggestions by those arguably most affected by the metamorphosis of areas such as Kings Cross has been all but ignored.
More – For and Against
The City of Sydney is “deeply concerned that unintended negative impacts may or have occurred as a result of this broad based legislative change”.
The Committee for Sydney quotes ABS data (May, 2015) citing alcohol consumption is at a 50-year low and seeks to encourage night-time activities beyond drinking.
The Sydney Business Council was in favour of reform, but now wants measures reconsidered due to detrimental effects on Sydney tourism.
Kevin Anderson – member for Tamworth, says 10pm bottle shop closure has hurt communities and business.
APRA supports differentiating music venues.
The Association of Artist Managers supports differentiating music venues, citing the importance of live music to Australia both in exports and ROI. (Study by University of Tasmania, the ‘Economic and Cultural Value of Live Music in Australia’ found every dollar Australians spend on live music circulates three back into the economy.)
The Last Drinks Coalition says measures have been “proven to work” and wants to keep the current measures, and adopt them State-wide.
Manly Council boasts continued success dealing with its own alcohol-related violence, but supports the retention of all restrictions, including take-away.
National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre champions the tactic of supply reduction in reducing alcohol-related harm. Ironically, no mention is made of the need to attack the supply of drugs such as ice and amphetamines, nor their effects on violent behaviour.