Drink up - Newcastle is a long way away
January 5, 2014
Richard for 2011

Ins and outs of the Newcastle option ... More terrible injuries put the demon drink in the frame ... The government is steadfast in opposition to any more economic sanctions applying to its paymasters in the pubs and clubs industry ... Personal responsibility is the catch cry 

AS another half-dead youngster is carted to St Vincent's after a booze-fuelled assault once more we hear the cries for stronger remedies. 

The "Newcastle Solution" is uppermost on the list of handy fixes and it has added attractiveness because it is so obtusely resisted by the powers-that-be in the O'Farrell government. 

Naturally this inspires the fervent belief that the liquor lads in the pubs and clubs game have O'Farrell's googlies in a vice-like grip. 

So why is Newcastle a beacon of hope for Kings Cross, George Street, The Rocks and other zones whose agenda is set and maintained by the descendants of the Rum Corps? 

We're talking about restrictions imposed in 2008 on Newcastle hotels - known as section 104 licensing conditions. 

The key provision is that all licensed premises are prohibited from trading after 3.30am. Prior to an appeal the original cut-off time was 3am. 

No patron (an official word for someone desperately wanting a drink in a bar) can enter licensed premises after 1.30am (originally 1am). 

On top of the trading limitations there are a batch of alcoholic drink restrictions after 10pm: 

There were other RSA requirements, compliance audits, a management plan and communication strategies.

You can see the whole box and dice here ...

In 2012 five Newcastle pubs began to use linked ID scanners to try and keep bad drunks at bay. 

Between 2003 and 2008 - before the s.104 conditions took effect - Newcastle was awash with alcohol related crime. 

In this period assaults attended by police increased by 83 percent, with up to 63 percent of those cases relating to licensed premises. 

Police call-outs in the Newcastle "entertainment precinct" increased over 70 percent between 2003 and 2007. 

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So how do the figures look now? 

A study done by the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund, dealing with alcohol related harm and the Newcastle night-time economy, says that all the independent national and international reviews show that restricting trading hours is the most effective and cost-effective measure available to policymakers to reduce violence associated with licensed venues. 

The most commonly quoted figure is that the Newcastle measures resulted in a 37 percent drop in alcohol related violence at night within 18 months. 
Based on research presented in June 2012 by the Hunter New England Health Service there has been on average a 35 percent drop. 

The same research showed a sustained 47 percent decrease in assaults inside the Newcastle CBD's 14 hotels, a 50 percent reduction in night-time street offences and a 26 percent fall in night-time assault-related emergency department presentations. 

A dangerous stretch of Victoria Street

However, George Souris, the National Party timeserver who is the minister responsible for liquor, gaming, racing and The Yarts, intones the same mantra as the Australian Hotels Association. 

Both claim that drinking is a matter of "personal responsibility" and a one-size-fits all solution is not the way to go.

The findings of a survey by the AHA of Newcastle venues in 2008 reported hotel sales revenue was down 30.8 percent. 

The value of hotels was estimated to have fallen by $22.5 million and hoteliers had been forced to lay off one-fifth of their workforce.

Two years later the AHA commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to find out what would happen if Newcastle alcohol conditions were introduced across the state. 

The forecast was that trading revenue would plummet by between $502m-$657m throughout NSW and up to 9,500 jobs would be lost.  

All of which goes to show the extent to the local economy is addicted to the booze. Health costs and societal damage due to alcohol dependency were missing from these AHA sponsored findings. 

Souris has his own set of figures. 

Souris: lies, damn lies and statistics

The Hospitality Minister has claimed that while Newcastle had an impressive 26 percent reduction in violent incidents, there had been a 28 percent reduction state-wide between 2008 and 2012.  

He said that there was a 40 percent reduction in violent incidents at licensed premises in Penrith, over the same period. In Campbelltown, there was a 38 percent reduction and in Gosford, 36 percent.

"This completely debunks the claim that Newcastle-style restrictions are the only pathway to achieving real reductions with alcohol-related violence," the minister told parliament.   

Barry O'Farrell told the ABC: 

"The slogan being put forward by my opponents - 1am lockouts, 3am shutouts - is of no comfort to someone who was assaulted at 9pm." 

The government is resting on a report finalised last November into the Liquor Act by Michael Foggo, the former head of the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing. 

Foggo recommends against further implementation of the Newcastle option, but does put forward other suggestions, including "risk-based" licensing and closing a loophole in the Act that allows hotel staff to keep serving drunk "patrons". 

See some analysis here

Dr Don Weatherburn, the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, says that while the number of overall drink-related assaults is down, it is entirely possible that the number of very serious, life-threatening assaults is up. 

He says the only way to check this is to examine the records of people admitted to hospital emergency departments with assault-related injuries. 

The bureau will be undertaking this research early in 2014.   

The director of emergency services at St Vincents, Gordian Fulde, already knows the answer. In a recent newspaper interview he said that while black eyes and split lips have decreased, vicious attacks have not. 

Flude: at work

On New Year's eve his department was dealing with people who had been thumped unconscious at the rate of two an hour. 

He says that alcohol is the main factor, because: "Alcohol inhibits the inhibitors." 

The Last Drinks Coalition has put together some interesting graphs comparing the drop in Newcastle's alcohol-induced with that of other cities. 

See here and here   

One of the most dramatic compares the night-time non-domestic violence assaults in the Newcastle and Sydney CBDs, and it looks like this. 

Another city comparison was carried out by Associate Professor Peter Miller of Deakin University. He looked at Newcastle's compulsory scheme and Geelong's voluntary restrictions. 

Miller told the ABC that the early closing times, lock-outs and drinking restrictions in Newcastle are working much more effectively than the voluntary scheme in Geelong.

"It had a substantial effect in terms of fairly immediate results for reductions in assaults and emergency attendances. 

We did 4,000 interviews with patrons out there late at night.

We saw changes in terms of their drinking habits over time - so, their pre-drinking reduced and they went out earlier at night.

When you try to intervene after people are already intoxicated it doesn't really work. So, all the measures put in place in Geelong were essentially done by the local council and police because they were the only powers they had.

The real levers to reduce it come around reducing consumption - that is reducing trading hours, advertising, outlet density, and increasing price."    

*   *   *

The NSW government's resistance to tougher liquor trading restrictions is no surprise when it's remembered that the pubs and clubs lobby is tightly intertwined with the Liberal Party

AHA's Nicolaou (right) with friends Paul Nicolaou is the chief executive of the NSW branch of the Australian Hotels Association and is a former Liberal candidate and is still keen to get into parliament on the Liberal benches.

Before joining the AHA he ran the the Millennium Forum, the party's main fundraising outfit.

Michael Photios is chief of the lobbying firm Premier State, which has the NSW AHA and hospitality group Merivale as clients. He is also the leader of the left faction of the NSW Liberals and a member of its state executive.

David Elliott, who is the Liberal MP for Baulkham Hills, is a former deputy chief executive of the NSW branch of the Australian Hotels Association.  

The Labor Party, during its time in government, also managed to perform like a compliant poodle whenever the AHA wanted to tickle its tummy. 

The AHA is a tireless lobbyist. One of it's recent campaigns is to water-down the definition of "drunk". 

It also wants "vindictive" police stripped of powers to fine pubs and clubs.  

The association, in a submission to the government, said that at the moment the definition "intoxication" is too subjective. The application of the term should be narrowed so as to mean "unduly intoxicated" - which would target only the excessively drunk such as those who are "swaying, asleep, aggressive or belligerent". 

*   *   *

Researchers say that early lock-outs are the most effective way to reduce violence

So here we are back in Kings Cross, with around 19 premises licensed to sell grog for 24 hours a day, although only a handful of the biggest actually run 24 hour bars - with "time outs" under stage one of the 2012 Kings Cross plan of management. 

The government tried to look busy after the death in July 2012 of Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross. 

In September that year it released the Kings Cross plan of management with stage one taking effect from December 2012. 

Stage two came into force in October 2013. 

See Kings Cross plan of management   

See fact sheet for Kings Cross special licence conditions 

Kieran Loveridge pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Kelly and on November 8, 2013, was sentenced to imprisonment for six years with a minimum term of four years. There were additional sentences for other offences that took the total sentence to seven years with a minimum term of five years and two months. 

AHA rally opposing Kings Cross alcohol management plan

Understandably, the Kelly family was intensely disappointment with the sentencing judgment. The government also beat its chest with attorney general Greg Smith saying that he would introduce a new category of offence where an unlawful assault causes death. 

It will be based on Western Australia's "one punch" law and Smith is proposing that it carry a maximum 20 year sentence.  

That's the exciting innovation at the penalty end of the spectrum. 

As far as innovations to curtail the ready supply of alcohol there is an absence of imagination.  
Tragically, we will need more Thomas Kellys before this administration moves it's ample rump. 

Reporting: Alix Piatek and Richard Ackland

Article originally appeared on Local news from postcode 2011 (http://postcode2011.com.au/).
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