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Lockout laws save us from hell of violence

Toby Hall - The Daily Telegraph
September 2016

Justice Callinan’s report into the NSW government’s liquor laws is a resounding endorsement of their success. Ian Callinan is an independent umpire. 
He has examined the evidence and come to the same conclusion as St Vincent’s: that before these measures Sydney’s CBD and Kings Cross were “grossly overcrowded, violent, noisy” and characterised by “anti-social behaviour”.
And after their introduction there has been a reduction in violence in the city’s entertainment precincts and no significant displacement of violence elsewhere.
St Vincent’s has no vested interests in this debate.
We appreciate Justice Callinan’s finding “of all the groups holding opinions, it seems to me that the medical profession and the emergency workers have the least or no self-interest” and that “their opinion … must carry a great deal of weight”.
However, because of our stance, the staff at St Vincent’s Hospital — men and women whose jobs are to save lives, often under immense stress and difficulty — have, throughout this debate, been targets of abuse and had their motives questioned.
Throughout it all, St Vincent’s has stuck to its guns and attempted to let its evidence, and the experiences of its clinicians and nurses, speak for themselves:

  • A 44 per cent decrease in trauma admissions to ICU specifically involving alcohol-related assaults.
  • A plummeting in the number of alcohol-related serious facial fractures in the hospital’s Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery department.

All while Royal Prince Alfred — which covers Newtown, Pyrmont and Enmore — is experiencing a lower level of assault presentations than two years ago. We recognise the challenges facing Justice Callinan in adjudicating on these measures and their impact, and the need to give a fair hearing to reasonable voices on all sides.
We support a vibrant Sydney. However, as Justice Callinan found, “vibrancy is not to be measured only by the amount of alcohol available or consumed throughout the night”.
In the wake of Justice Callinan’s report, our opinion remains: This package of reforms is working.
We’re an evidence-based organisation and the evidence is clear: Extending alcohol trading hours -increases alcohol-related problems. A reduction in hours can contribute to a decrease in these problems.
As such, we believe the 3am last drinks in Sydney’s entertainment precincts should remain in place, including for live music venues.
But on the subject of the lockouts themselves, if the government chose to extend them to 2am in venues hosting live performances, we would stress caution but we would not stand in the way.
As for the report’s recommendation to relax bottle shop opening hours across the state from 10pm to 11pm and allow for home delivery of alcohol until midnight, we have serious concerns.
That’s because of the enormous weight of evidence linking store-bought alcohol with violence.
The focus of the media and public has been the liquor laws and their impact on entertainment precincts, but it’s relaxing bottle shop closing hours across NSW that holds the most risk to people’s health.
Studies have shown 60 per cent of people presenting with injuries to emergency wards consumed store-bought alcohol in the hours leading up to their injuries.
Ambulances are more commonly called to neighbourhoods near bottle shops, with areas near large chain stores reporting even higher injury rates.
And research shows that violence in homes increases by 26 per cent for every extra 10,000 litres of alcohol sold.
Australia already has a serious problem with family violence.
Why would we risk putting women and children in harm’s way by weakening these measures?
The head of NSW’s Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Dr Don Weatherburn, has said a reduction in assaults in NSW was “fully attributable” to the 10pm bottle shop closing time.
And Justice Callinan himself has noted: “It needs to be understood however that such an extension may elevate the risk of domestic violence.”
In the light of the evidence, surely it’s not too much to ask people to be a bit better organised when planning a visit to the bottle shop?
The further the CBD and Kings Cross of pre-January 2014 appears in our rear-view mirror, the harder it is to recall exactly what it was like and the easier it is to water down these measures.
We urge the community to remember how far we’ve come and what we have to lose.

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