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St Vincent's Toby Hall on reducing alcohol-related violence and the NSW Election

Toby Hall - Daily Telegraph
March 2015

Tonight at a forum in Sydney, representatives from our major parties will announce their policies for the upcoming state election to reduce alcohol-related harm and violence.

The first question they should answer is whether they will seriously consider expanding Sydney's successful 'party precinct' lock out laws to other parts of NSW where alcohol-fuelled violence remains a problem?

St Vincent's Hospital in Darlinghurst was at the epicentre of inner city Sydney's epidemic of alcohol-related violence until the introduction of the lock out laws in February 2014.

One year later, all the feedback tells us that the frequency and severity of alcohol-related presentations and admissions to the hospital have plummeted.

On New Year's Eve – a night when our Emergency Department is usually overwhelmed with alcohol-related injuries – our staff spoke of lower levels of intoxication and violence with not a single person admitted to intensive care.

The director of the hospital's trauma service estimates we've seen a 50% drop in admissions related to severe alcohol-related trauma over the last 12 months.

From our perspective, the introduction of the lockout laws has saved lives. It's as simple as that.

Surely the number one priority of our political representatives is to take all reasonable steps to protect the public and save lives?

If the upcoming analysis of the lockout laws by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research – scheduled for April – and the government's own review next year supports our experience, as I'm confident they will, then I think it's fair to expect our politicians to act.

Residents and visitors to Sydney's CBD – as in Newcastle – appear to have had their exposure to alcohol-related harm significantly reduced by these laws.

If the evidence is there, shouldn't we extend the same benefit to other NSW communities experiencing similar problems?

For those communities where there may not be venues that close at 3am, they should be empowered to introduce measures that are appropriate for their area.

But expanding the lockout laws is just one piece of the puzzle.

Our representatives must apply themselves to a whole range of measures related to the licensing, promotion, advertising and sale of alcohol if we're to reduce its harm.

Nearly five children are being admitted to hospital every day in NSW because of injuries linked to their parents' drinking or their own alcohol abuse.

There were almost 10,000 cases of alcohol-related domestic violence in NSW in 2013-14.

The healthcare costs of alcohol in NSW is close to $600m, including hospitalisations, ambulance and aged care.

For years, our 6,600 NSW staff have witnessed the harm where alcohol is a factor: the injuries, the chronic illness and disease, how it exacerbates homelessness and mental illness.

Police, public transport workers, and locals where alcohol-fuelled violence is at its worst tell the same story.

Something's clearly gone wrong in our society's relationship with alcohol.

It's our responsibility – knowing what we know as one of Australia's largest healthcare groups – to say 'we can do better'.

We can't stand on the sidelines and watch this take place without asking our politicians for change.

I'm not a prohibitionist. I'm not a wowser.

I recognise the majority of Australians can enjoy alcohol responsibly.

But such is the scale and depth of the problem facing us we need more than self-regulation and well-meaning awareness campaigns to restore balance.

We've been very pleased with the NSW Coalition Government's introduction of the lockout laws in Sydney, as with Labor's support.

We're hopeful that, given their already strong backing, the major parties will now commit themselves to going further.

I think it's what the people of NSW would expect of their leaders.