In a few weeks Queensland’s government will put forward proposals for State-wide lockouts and trade restrictions – despite mounting evidence and calls to not cripple the hospitality industry.

A travelling parliamentary committee is conducting hearings into the upcoming legislation proposal, visiting an array of precincts such as Cairns, Townsville, the Gold Coast and Brisbane.

Reports have emerged of a procession of independent objectors to the potential blanket rules at the hearings, including mayors, politicians, the founder of Cairns Street Chaplains, and most recently, global drinks giant and advocate for responsible drinking, Diageo.

One stand-out submission came from the Cairns City Liquor Safety Accord. President John Lynch informed the independent Legal Affairs & Community Safety (LACS) committee that over the past three years just 0.3 per cent of hospital admissions involving alcohol-related injuries were people that had been drinking in licensed venues.

The statistics were collected by Cairns Hospital and James Cook University. The Hospital’s Alcohol, tobacco and Other Drugs Service (ATODS) reported that while data was limited, the majority of presentations involving alcohol-related injuries were people drinking in private home or parks, and that most injuries were self-inflicted.

Lynch echoed concerns raised by repeated speakers to the committee, that the proposed laws would have an “adverse effect” on tourism and the city’s economy.

Cairns police offered that authorities enjoyed a very good relationship with venues, and that the biggest challenge was the increase of illicit drugs.

This was furthered by the former director of Cairns Street Chaplains, Carol Christopher, who believes the lockouts will cause problems where they currently don’t exist, and have “a serious impact” on Cairns’ economy.

“Violence and aggression of any kind has been very infrequent for some 18 months,” she said. “Our streets are not dangerous.”

The world’s largest drinks producer has similarly made its voice heard, with Nick Westenberg – public policy & government relations manager, Diageo Australia – addressing the LACS in Townsville.

A global advocate for both responsible drinking and education, Diageo braved critics to offer perspective and support for evidence-based solutions to alcohol-related harm, which it stressed is “a joint responsibility” of industry, Government and the community.

Nick Westenberg, Diageo
Nick Westenberg, Diageo

“Alcohol consumption in Australia today is at the lowest level in 50 years,” said Westenberg.

“Fewer young people are consuming alcohol, the number of Australians drinking at risky levels continues to fall, and alcohol-related violence has been declining significantly for several years. These are all Government figures.”

Diageo is presently conducting its proactive ‘Don’t See A Great Night Wasted’ education campaign across venues in Queensland, which “seeks to educate consumers on responsible drinking while they are actually at a pub or bar”.

The company sees the wide-sweeping lockout proposals as an indelicate solution that penalises the many for the sins of the few.

“The measures contained in the Tackling Alcohol Fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill are blunt, population control measures that seek to address the issue of violence by blaming alcohol, and penalising the majority of Queenslanders, who actually drink responsibly,” Westenberg said in his presentation.

While the details of the Bill may represent some advancement on the draconian policies seen in Newcastle, and devastatingly in Sydney’s CBD and Kings Cross, the enormous variety of conditions and tourism-reliant districts in Queensland further exaggerate the failings of a one-size-fits-all solution to what is ultimately a political – not a public – problem.

The LACS will present its report on 8 February, ahead of the State Government’s submission of the Bill to parliament. Sufficient support to get the Bill passed is still the subject of political wrangling in the lead-up to Labor’s big play at keeping its election promise to address (public perception on) alcohol-related violence.

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