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Lockout laws have reduced numbers hospitalised due to alcohol-related violence

Toby Hall - Sydney Morning Herald
April 2015

Today we will receive the first official word on whether Sydney's lockout laws have been a success.

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) will release its review of the state's liquor licensing restrictions – collectively known as the "lockout laws" – a suite of reforms introduced by the O'Farrell government in February 2014 to combat an epidemic of alcohol-fuelled violence and harm.

Of course, the best known changes were initiating a 1.30am lockout and 3am last drinks for pubs and clubs in Sydney's entertainment district.
But they also included putting an end to bottle shop sales after 10pm across NSW and bans on troublemakers entering licensed premises in the so-called "party precinct".

BOCSAR's report will give us the evidence we need to judge whether the laws have led to a drop in alcohol-related crime and violence in the central business district and Kings Cross.

It will also tell us whether or not the problems associated with alcohol have moved to other parts of the city.

St Vincent's Hospital serves the entertainment district covered by the laws.

It has within its catchment the greatest concentration of licensed premises in Australia.

Our hospital and staff see first-hand the devastation to individuals and families caused by alcohol-related violence and harm.

For example, over the one-year period prior to the lockout laws, the hospital saw 26 patients with serious head injuries admitted between the hours of 8pm to 8am.

But then came the new measures, and for St Vincent's, the effect was both striking and immediate.

In the year since the introduction of the  laws, over the same 8pm-8am window, the hospital saw only 11 serious head injuries – more than a 50 per cent drop.

And only one of those involved alcohol and came from the area covered by the lockout.

On New Year's Eve – a night when the hospital's emergency department is usually overwhelmed with alcohol-related presentations – our staff spoke of lower levels of intoxication and violence, with not a single person admitted to intensive care.

The hospital's experience is backed up by that of the Kings Cross police command which reports that, over the last year, alcohol-related violence is down almost 50 per cent.

Other crimes – sexual assaults, robbery, break-and-enters, muggings – have also plummeted.

Talk to any of the doctors and nurses who witnessed the tsunami of mostly young people affected by alcohol-fuelled violence prior to the lockout and they'll tell you the past 12 months have been like working at a different hospital.

Importantly, when our managers and clinicians speak to their colleagues at other hospitals, they've not encountered any evidence of a spike in presentations and admissions involving alcohol-related harm elsewhere.

Given these experiences, we're confident that BOCSAR's review will confirm the lockout laws have been a resounding success.

We're confident that it will be the final nail in the coffin for the campaign waged by the liquor lobby to undermine these laws.

It should also end any suggestion of softening the measures or for their early review.

On the contrary, today's BOCSAR results should embolden the NSW government.

In the aftermath of the recent elections – where there was solid community support for the laws – the government can take the lead in further reducing alcohol harms beyond Sydney's entertainment district.

The new Queensland government has set the pace by committing itself to doing similar across its state.

As a nation, we have allowed alcohol to take control of our homes and communities in a way that's far more destructive and insidious than any illegal drug.

Lockout laws, while crucial, are only a start. To wrest back the necessary balance, governments will also need to consider tighter regulations around alcohol promotion, advertising and sales.

But for the moment, let's celebrate Sydney's success.

Our streets are safer. Fewer young people are dying or suffering horrific injuries and our police are no longer required to channel precious resources into tackling preventable alcohol-fuelled crime.

In light of the relatively small impost on the night time economy, this is a big victory for the broader community.

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