OPINION: Wowser campaign overlooks the truth

BEER FEARS: Alcohol-related incidents in licensed premises have fallen. Picture: Arsineh HouspianTHE anti-alcohol lobby is doing its best to fuel community concerns over alcohol-related harm as the mandated five-year review of the NSW Liquor Act is under way.
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With the state government set to receive the results of the review by the end of the year, organisations such as the NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance, along with various sub-groups, have made submissions calling for a radical overhaul of trading hours across the state based on the so-called “Newcastle solution”.

In March 2008 this strategy saw a number of hotels in Newcastle have a range of measures imposed on them including 3am closing times, 1am lockouts and bans on selling shots after 10pm. No registered clubs in Newcastle were affected.

Since these measures were introduced, organisations such as the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education have called for these same restrictions to be rolled out across the state. Once shutdowns and lockouts have been introduced, they will start calling for earlier closing times.

The lobby claims the Newcastle measures have been a success. In last week’s Newcastle Herald these claims were repeated, as the Newcastle and Hunter Region Multicultural Drug Action Team chairman Tony Brown claimed the measures had led to a drop in violence and should be replicated statewide.

The push for statewide restrictions is based on the argument that there were 32per cent fewer assaults in licensed premises in Newcastle last year than there were in 2007.

But assaults in and around licensed premises fell right across NSW by 31per cent over that same period – a difference of 1per cent compared to Newcastle.

Contrary to claims that Newcastle had outperformed the rest of the state, figures from the independent Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research show that incidents in and around licensed premises in Sydney’s Hills district fell by 57per cent from 2007 to 2012. That’s almost double the drop in Newcastle.

In Wollongong, incidents in and around licensed premises dropped by more than 36per cent, in Penrith they fell by 55per cent and in the Sutherland Shire they fell by 41per cent. Campbelltown, Bankstown and Gosford have also seen falls of more than 50per cent. Incidents in and around licensed premises in Dubbo fell by 39per cent, by 61per cent in Shellharbour and by 44per cent in Wagga Wagga.

What the facts actually show is that there is nothing special about the measures put in place in Newcastle. While Newcastle has become safer, it’s lagging behind comparable areas.

So what’s the real reason for the decline in alcohol-related incidents in and around licensed premises over the past five years?

The fact is the Liquor Act 2007 and the Violent Venues List, which also came into effect in 2008, have succeeded where so many other pieces of regulation have failed.

Through Section 77, the Liquor Act gave clubs and pubs the right to eject troublesome patrons from their venues, as well as the right to refuse to let them in the doors in the first place.

It also established local Liquor Accords which bought clubs, pubs, police, councils, bottleshops and security industry representatives together to address local problems and discuss local solutions.

If Section 77 gave venues a way to prevent problems, and liquor accords gave them the ability to address problems that did occur, then the Violent Venues List was the big, fat stick.

In fact, 60per cent of the pubs and hotels that the Newcastle measures applied to were also placed on the violent venues list and forced to abide by those additional restrictions as well.

Together, these three measures saw alcohol-related incidents in licensed premises fall by more than a third in just five years, and that downward trend is continuing.

In fact, your local club, already the safest place to have a night out with your family, is now even safer, with 30per cent fewer incidents in clubs last year than there were back in 1995 when such records began being kept.

Unfortunately, admitting that politicians got something right doesn’t help the anti-alcohol lobby tick off their wish list of lockouts, shutdowns and price hikes on every schooner of beer.

Disingenuous claims and perfectly crafted sound bites do far more for the anti-alcohol lobby’s wowser crusade than actually admitting the truth.

Anthony Ball is the chief executive officer of ClubsNSW.

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