Toby Hall – Sydney Morning Herald
When the clock ticks over to January 14 on Tuesday – and the NSW government’s reforms to Sydney’s lockout laws come into effect
– most eyes will be on the CBD and the removal of the 1.30am "one-way door" and 3am "last drinks" measures. What will the impact be?
All the evidence says that increasing access to alcohol leads to an increase in alcohol-related harm – violence, accidents and illness.
But while Sydney – and its media – will largely focus on the CBD and what unfolds in the coming weeks and months, a different story, so far largely ignored, will be playing out across the rest of the state.
One of the decisions taken by the NSW government in watering down the laws was extending bottle shop trading hours across the state by an hour – from 11pm to midnight. This means bottle shop trade will have grown by two hours since the lockout laws were first introduced in 2014, having already increased from 10pm to 11pm in 2017. Why does that matter?
Precisely because of what the evidence tells us – more alcohol equals more harms – and with this particular change, I sincerely fear an increase in alcohol-related domestic and family violence.
When the lockout laws came into effect in 2014 and bottle shop opening hours were knocked back to 10pm, we saw a speedy dip in alcohol-related domestic violence across the state.
The independent 2016 report into the lockout laws by Justice Ian Callinan acknowledged an 8.1 per cent whole-of-state reduction in alcohol-related domestic assaults along with a 12.3 per cent drop in regional areas since the 10pm close began.
But in the years since the trading hours were relaxed to 11pm, evidence from NSW’s Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research is that alcohol-related domestic assaults are on the increase. Again, more alcohol equals more harm, and alcohol consumed from a packaged liquor outlet is a major culprit.
Almost half of all people attending St Vincent’s Sydney’s emergency department who reported consuming alcohol in the preceding 12 hours purchased their alcohol from a bottle shop, and overwhelmingly from large beer barns.
There is no question Australia is in the grip of a domestic and family violence crisis. One woman is killed every week, on average, by domestic violence across our nation. Fifteen women were killed by their partners in NSW in the year prior to March 2019
Alcohol is a significant contributor and exacerbator of domestic and family violence, increasing both its likelihood and severity.
Almost half of all intimate partner homicides – and the vast majority of intimate partner homicides involving Indigenous people – are alcohol-related.
According to BOCSAR, one-third of domestic assaults are alcohol-related.
Other research tells us
that for every 10,000 additional litres of pure alcohol sold at a packaged liquor outlet, the risk of violence experienced in a residential setting increases by 26 per cent.
The human cost of this violence is immeasurable. The financial cost is estimated at $22 billion
Knowing all this, why would the NSW government – which has made a pledge to reduce the number of domestic violence reoffenders by 25 per cent by 2023 – sign off on such a dangerous and unnecessary policy?
Did it receive some overwhelmingly strong argument to make the change from the Joint Select Committee on Sydney's Night Time Economy?
It doesn’t appear so. All it gave in justifying its recommendation was that “people should be able to make their own responsible choices”.
I understand that the biggest advocates for the NSW Premier to come to this decision were her rural and regional backbenchers, which if true, I find extraordinary.
Women in regional and rural areas are more likely than women living in cities to experience domestic and family violence.
Why would you open up your constituents to such risk?
St Vincent’s recognises the state government has committed itself to measuring and reporting the impact of removing the lockout and last drinks measures from the CBD in a year’s time. But it has not given the same pledge in regards to alcohol-related domestic and family violence across NSW. It must.
Personally, I’m comfortable prioritising the safety of women and children and asking people to be one hour more organised in the purchase of their alcohol over the need to buy another slab at 11:45pm on a Saturday night. So should the government.