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Who’s calling the shots?

Barry O’Farrell was given an unprecedented mandate to govern for all the citizens of New South Wales (NSW) in March 2011.

The grievous loss of Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross and the consequential reverberation throughout the State and beyond, presented the Premier with a rare opportunity to stand up to the powerful liquor industry, and to no longer allow industry to determine alcohol control policy and laws.

The Premier was presented with two stark policy choices.

The first from his own health, police and criminology experts who unanimously advocated proven, evidence-based measures to reduce the dangerous oversupply and availability of alcohol across the whole state together with the effective enforcement of existing RSA laws.

This approach dealt with the fundamental causes of the harm – too much grog, failed Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) schemes and consequential excessive intoxication.

First and foremost would be measures that would see earlier pub closing times. When introduced in Newcastle, such a measure resulted in a verifiable 37 per cent reduction in assaults together with substantial public cost savings.

So what of the Premier’s second choice? Industry, the Opposition and the Sydney City Council saw things very differently, predictably shifting the blame and the cost away from the liquor profiteers and onto the pub and club patrons and the general public.

Conveniently ignoring failed RSA and other serious non-compliance as revealed in both a Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) report and a recent Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) compliance audit, this group blamed insufficient police, public transport, drugs, small bars and the service of shots and bombs.

Faced with these two choices, the Premier has opted for increased mass transport, a sobering-up centre, ID scanners and CCTVs that are absolutely ineffective in preventing the majority of the harm that arises from non-criminal, unintended injury by heavily intoxicated patrons.

The real ineffectiveness of the NSW Government’s Clayton’s response to the single most significant health, social and policing problem in the nation can be gauged by the volume of crocodile tears from the industry, and the Labor Opposition’s calls for even more costly public trains running eight minutes apart from 1am to 5am out of the Cross.

Neither political marionettes have justified why ordinary taxpayers should continue to pay the huge costs of extra police and transport; measures that have been shown not to reduce harm.

This exposes the enormous nationwide inequity of the public subsidising the liquor industry’s irresponsible business practice of promoting and selling copious amounts of alcohol to vulnerable and impressionable groups in our society to 5 or 6 in the morning.

Barry O‘Farrell has sadly squandered an opportunity to display statesmanship, to genuinely assure parents, including Thomas Kelly’s family, and emergency workers that his government is not beholden to the powerful liquor industry for support and direction, and that alcohol harm minimisation and prevention has primacy over pub profits.

His independent experts are muzzled. The Department of Education’s Alcohol and Drug Policy Unit has been abolished, replaced by a counterfeit alcohol harm reduction currency of drug sniffer dogs, sobering up centres, more police and more unaffordable public transport.

All in the name of protecting the reputation and profits of a handful of powerful Kings Cross late-trading binge barns.

Tony Brown

Tony Brown

Tony Brown is a PhD (Law) Scholar, Conjoint Fellow School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle. He is the Chairperson of the Newcastle and Hunter Region Multicultural Drug Action Teams. He voluntarily led and represented around 150 local residents, small businesses and concerned citizens in the complex legal proceedings initiated by the Police that led to the “Newcastle conditions”.

2 comments

  • Tony you are on the money here. The Premier seems to be happy for NSW taxpayers money to fund solutions to the problems caused by the liquor industry. People in NSW should question the justness of this in light of the fact that none of the Premier’s proposals are likely to have much of an impact on reducing alcohol-feuled violence.

  • The Premier visited Kings Cross late at night in 2011 and was obviously shocked by what he saw. This visit was covered on television. His language now expresses toughness – but not toughness where it is needed to make a real difference. If the people of Kings Cross and NSW are going to experience less alcohol related violence, then we will need fewer alcohol outlets, shorter opening hours and tighter conditions. Does the Premier have what it takes to stand up to the drinks industry? The odds don’t look good at this stage.

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