Toby Hall and Nadine Ezard - Sydney Morning Herald
If Premier Mike Baird is serious about tackling domestic violence, and we believe he is, then he must remain committed to the state-wide 10pm closing time of bottle shops on the back of the significant reductions in assaults these changes have brought.
Of the highly successful alcohol reforms introduced by the NSW government in 2014, the 10pm closing time for packaged liquor stores was the only restriction that applied statewide. And we have seen statewide benefits.
There is clear research showing that trading hours of packaged liquor stores contribute significantly to alcohol harm. A recent New Zealand study shows drinkers purchasing takeaway alcohol after 10pm are twice as likely to drink heavily compared to those buying alcohol before 10pm.
Assaults across the state are down 5 per cent. The head of NSW's Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Dr Don Weatherburn, has said that this reduction was "fully attributable" to the 10pm bottle shop closing time.
Police as well as regional trauma surgeons who we've spoken to, are also resolute in describing the reductions they have witnessed in assaults. The research showing the correlation between late-night trading hours and assaults is compelling. In addition to the NZ survey, NZ Police have also noted that off-licence venues are more likely than on-licences to be an issue for offences involving minors.
Further Australian studies have shown 60 per cent of people presenting with injuries to emergency wards had consumed alcohol bought at a store in the hours leading up to their injuries. Ambulances are more commonly called to neighbourhoods near bottle shops, and violence in homes is strongly associated with takeaway liquor.
St Vincent's Hospital Sydney last month welcomed the findings of the Callinan Inquiry's report and appreciates Justice Callinan's position that "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".
The opinion of the hospital's frontline workers – our doctors and nurses – is emphatic: this package of reforms is working and there has been little or no displacement of alcohol-related violence to other areas.
We recognise the challenges that faced Justice Callinan in adjudicating on these measures and their impact, and the need to give a fair hearing to reasonable voices on all sides. Similarly, we recognise the pressure on the Baird government from diverse and sometimes vested interests to compromise on these reforms.
We support a vibrant Sydney. Our representatives participated in a government-sponsored roundtable alongside a range of diverse groups to discuss how to make the city more vibrant.
However, as Justice Callinan found, "vibrancy is not to be measured only by the amount of alcohol available or consumed throughout the night".
Similar to the situation with bottle shops, there is irrefutable evidence that extending the trading hours to licensed premises results in increases in alcohol-related problems and the reduction in these hours can contribute to a reduction in these same problems.
As such we believe the 3am last drinks in Sydney's entertainment precincts should remain in place, including for live music venues.
At the end of the day, the facts speak for themselves. The hospital's experience shows that the suite of alcohol reforms are working very effectively; since their introduction in 2014, the St Vincent's Intensive Care Unit has not witnessed a single death related to an alcohol-related assault.
In the hospital's plastic and reconstructive surgery department, there were 145 cases of serious facial fractures in the two years before the laws were brought in, 119 related to alcohol. In the two years since, this number has plummeted to 58 cases, with only 37 related to alcohol.
In suggesting consideration be given to a possible extension of the 10pm bottle shop closure as well as extending alcohol home delivery services to midnight, Justice Callinan suggested "It needs to be understood however that such an extension may elevate the risk of domestic violence."
We believe that the risk here is far too great, and in light of the devastation we have seen domestic violence reap in our communities, we urge the government to stay the course.