Queensland should not be shy in leading the way

The following is an edited transcript of the record of proceedings from Queensland Parliament on 17 February 2016. The full statement from the Attorney-General on the Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Legislation Amendment Bill can be viewed on Hansard pages 155-165.

I stand here today to honour those who have lost their lives, those who have endured serious injury through alcohol-fuelled violence, their families, their friends and their work colleagues who will never be the same because of these violent incidents related to alcohol. I stand here in honour today of the police, the ambulance officers, the doctors and nurses who deal with this violence on the frontline on an all too regular basis.

Prior to the election the Palaszczuk Government made a commitment to the Queensland people to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence. We said, all of us, here last year enough is enough. We said it to domestic violence. We said there should be zero tolerance to violence in our communities, whether it is in our homes or in our broader communities.

What I did not realise at the time is that zero tolerance came with an escape clause that in fact some tolerance is okay if it means not infringing on someone’s right to drink after 3am. If the choice is zero tolerance to violence or condoning this behaviour so that people can drink in the early hours of the morning, I think we have an obligation to stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

As parliamentarians we have an obligation to act to reduce the number of assaults, sexual assaults and deaths that result from alcohol. To lose this opportunity presented here before us today, all of us, to create lasting change would be regrettable to say the least. I do not want to lay another bunch of flowers at a makeshift memorial for a young life lost too soon. My heart goes out to those families who have lost family members as a result of alcohol-related violence.

The fact is that there is one thing this parliament has not been able to address and that is the service of alcohol trading hours. We are not asking members to simply take our word for it, extensive, independent, peer reviewed research could not be clearer. For every hour of reduced liquor trading there is a corresponding reduction in alcohol-related harm of up to 22 per cent.

During this debate I will explain what this bill does, why we are doing it, how we came to this decision and why Queensland should not be shy in leading the way and in the process dispel the myths that there is no reason or need to do this based on current assault rates, that changes to liquor hours will cost jobs, businesses and affect tourism and that there is no evidence to show that changing liquor hours reduces assaults.

The bill before the House consists of effective yet modest measures: 2am state-wide last drinks; safe night out precinct boards can choose to apply to have last drinks called at 3am with a 1am lockout; no new approvals for takeaway liquor licences beyond 10pm; and high alcohol content drinks designed to be consumed rapidly, such as shots, will be banned from midnight.

Too many Queenslanders are being impacted by harm caused by alcohol abuse, misuse and the associated violence. Action is needed. An evidence-based approach proven to achieve rapid decreases in assaults will save lives and lessen the impact of this scourge.

So why are we doing this? There has been a lot of misinformation thrust into the public debate by those who have vested interests and who do not have the safety of Queenslanders at heart. I have travelled North Queensland and the Wide Bay region. I have held round tables in Brisbane and Cairns. I have listened to the public firsthand and I have spoken to the doctors and nurses, the paramedics, the police officers who are so sick of being verbally abused, spat on, bitten, assaulted and seriously assaulted. The simple truth of the matter is that we have a problem when it comes to alcohol-fuelled violence in Queensland. The independent evidence proves this. When I talk about independent evidence, I mean peer reviewed, published research and statistics.

To quote Professor Najman, Chair of the Queensland Coalition for Action on Alcohol, at the Brisbane committee hearing:

The evidence base is for hours. That is, the evidence indicates that for every extra hour you continue to make alcohol available … you increase the level of harm.”

Alcohol harms are extensive in Queensland

Let us start with the Queensland Police Service statistics as to why we are doing this. The total number of offences against the person in Queensland in 2015 where alcohol was an indicator was 6,049. This represents a total of 21.1 per cent of all offences against the person—that is, more than one in five offences against the person are alcohol-related across the state. That is an extraordinary figure. The total number of assaults on police in the Brisbane CBD and safe night precincts in the past 12 months was 324, up by 11 from the previous year. Across the state there were 5,229 alcohol-related assaults in 2015, 427 alcohol-related sexual offences and three alcohol-related homicides.

Much has been made of Cairns and Townsville, so let us look at the statistics from those cities.

In Cairns, in 2014, there were 266 alcohol-related assaults and 21 alcohol-related sexual offences— rape, attempted rape, sexual assault. In 2015, there were 257 alcohol-related assaults and 16 alcohol-related sexual offences—a drop of nine and five respectively. We will hear that because there are signs of a marginal decline in these figures somehow we no longer need to do anything further, that everything is working—there is no need to take further action. Instead of talking about the nine who were not assaulted in Cairns over the last 12 months, how about we talk about the 257 who were. How about we talk about the 16 alcohol-related sexual offences. Who is going to speak up for these victims? It is our responsibility to do so, to give them a voice.

These decreases have come at a cost to Queensland taxpayers as well. The reduction of nine alcohol-related assaults comes at the cost of the police rostering on an extra 12 to 18 police officers in the Cairns Safe Night Out precinct every Friday and Saturday night. At the police briefing to the committee held in Cairns, Acting Chief Superintendent Rhys Newton said, in response to the following question from the chair, ‘Dealing with people under the influence of alcohol is your core business; is that what you are suggesting?’

We certainly see those challenges on those nights where there is late night trading in liquor and there is that extra demand on our resources and there will be calls for service, yes.”

Let us now turn to Townsville. In 2015, there were 497 alcohol-related assaults—up on the previous year by an additional 48. Once again, who is speaking up for those 497 victims? Who is their voice? In reference to Townsville, the Queensland Police Union of Employees, represented by Ian Leavers, said at the Gold Coast community hearing:

Cairns is one area. I know that in Townsville you take from Stuart, Deeragun and the shopfront there which polices The Strand in Townsville. We are having to suck police out of there to go and perform duty on The Strand. The problem is that we cannot just flood it with police because we cannot have police just working during the night-time hours, between 10 pm and 6 am. It is not feasible. Police have to work at other times. Part of our core duties is protecting life and property but also investigating other things, such as sudden deaths and domestics, which take a lot of our time at this point. It is pulling us away from our core duties.”

To suggest that alcohol-fuelled violence is only a Brisbane problem is a myth. This is a state-wide problem that needs a state-wide solution. The government does not claim that the bill is a silver bullet, as I have heard some on the other side say in their media interviews. Just as the introduction of seatbelts were not a silver bullet to stop every motor vehicle death or assaults, neither are these laws. But what they do do is reduce harm, and that reduction is significant and can lead to saving lives.

There is substantial evidence these measures will work

How do we know it works? The evidence is in and it is clear. If you do a Google search of ‘alcohol and damage’ you will get 1.3 million articles come up. I will not try to table all of them. We know that the Premier put up a very large pile of articles and research papers the other day in relation to alcohol and violence.

Similar liquor laws have been implemented in Newcastle, Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD. In the first 18 months of the implementation of liquor reforms, research indicates there was a 37 per cent decrease in alcohol-related assaults in the Newcastle CBD and a reduction of almost 340 emergency department presentations per year. Professor Gordian Fulde, who was recently named Senior Australian of the Year, has urged people to remember what the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross were like two years ago before the new laws were implemented. He said:

 … as time passes it’s harder for people to remember just what those days were like—but those of us who work on the frontline, we remember. Quite simply, it was a war zone.”

 The data in the peer reviewed Newcastle studies specifically relates to the area in which the measures were implemented. As at March 2015, alcohol-related assaults in the Newcastle CBD were measured as having dropped by 52 per cent overall. Speaking about the Newcastle experience to the committee hearing held in Brisbane, Mr Tony Brown, an alcohol reform campaigner, said:

In real practical terms we have seen more than a doubling in the number of licensed premises in Newcastle, which refutes the hysteria and scaremongering from the industry that it would be devastated. What this has practically translated into in Newcastle is more jobs and more opportunities for our young people. With respect, I do not think any responsible government or opposition should deny their communities that.”

Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD have a 1am lockout and last drinks at 3.30am. In April 2015, the impacts of the January 2014 liquor reforms were assessed by Professor Kypros Kypri and the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, BOCSAR. The findings were:

Significant and substantial reductions in assault occurred in both Kings Cross (down 32%) and Sydney CBD entertainment precinct (down 26%) (including a 40% cent decline in the sub-section George Street South.”

The City of Sydney’s Late night management areas research: phase 4 report, September 2015, indicated the number of premises licensed to trade liquor was up by 13 per cent in the Sydney CBD since 2012. It is hard to see where the devastation in Sydney is with such an increase. Despite the comments we have heard that the reductions are as a consequence of the reduction in foot traffic and patrons, we fail to see how Newcastle can have over 100 per cent increase in licensed venues and Sydney can have a 13 per cent increase in licensed venues if in fact no-one is going there.

More recent BOCSAR data from 16 months of the reforms shows an overall reduction in assaults of 45 per cent in Kings Cross and approximately 20 per cent in Sydney’s CBD. Furthermore, data gathered at St Vincent’s Hospital in the Sydney CBD has shown a 25 per cent decrease in alcohol-related serious injury presentations during the first 12 months of the liquor reforms. The results we saw in Newcastle, Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD involve rapid drops, with an accelerated decline beyond the generally decreasing assault rates. Put quite simply, rapid declines in assault rates such as those in Newcastle, Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD mean that people are saved from injury and death. Waiting for a gradual decline is not an option this government is prepared to accept.

In relation to lockouts, we have seen lockouts utilised successfully in Newcastle, Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD as part of a package of reforms that, in combination, has achieved the successful reductions in assaults I have just described. Byron Bay venues have implemented a voluntary lockout at 1.30am. There is also peer reviewed evidence demonstrating that lockouts reduce preloading and are effective at reducing violence inside premises. A 3am lockout is already in place in Queensland and licensees have been operating effectively with this lockout since 2006. The Sunshine Coast, a popular tourist destination, has implemented a voluntary lockout at 1.30am. Lockouts also support the Queensland Police Service as a crowd control measure. Lockouts assist in managing patron migration and maintaining order during the high-risk late-night trading period.

In my almost nine years in federal and state parliament I have never seen so much independent evidence to back up a bill. I have never seen so much evidence to support a piece of legislation coming before the parliament. I have already said that studies reveal that in Newcastle, Sydney and Kings Cross assaults are down 37 per cent, 26 per cent and 32 per cent respectively. We want to see these sorts of decreases here.

This legislation is consistent and fair

We have heard the Leader of the Opposition come up with the myth that this legislation is inconsistent— that a pub will have to close but the strip joint next door will not and that this is what these laws will allow. There is nothing whatsoever in this bill that actually has that provision.

The hysteria around the issue of casinos is quite appalling. Those exemptions exist around those particular premises because they are regulated differently and they are highly regulated. Casinos are in a different business. They are not there to sell alcohol. The LNP themselves acknowledged that those exemptions have existed for many years and for particular reasons and chose to leave them in place. I want to quote Ian Leavers from the Queensland Police Union to the parliamentary committee hearing in relation to casinos. He said:

When it comes to intoxicated people and people behaving badly, their security are a hell of a lot more strict and they have a lot more systems in place than a lot of the other licensed premises.”

Casinos are highly regulated—much more than any licensed venue—and I would call on any licensed venue that is willing to put their hand up and say, ‘I’m happy to be as regulated as a casino if it means changes in this area,’ because I can guarantee that none of them will.

This will not cause devastation for tourism and jobs

It has been disappointing to not see any data being put up by those who are opposing this legislation. I have heard many claims about significant job losses and the cost to the economy. I have been advised this modelling has been done by the entertainment industry, but no-one has yet produced that modelling.

There are many international tourist destinations and we are expected to believe that this is going to destroy tourism in this state. Honestly, in California, in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, they shut at 2am. In Boston, Ottawa, Toronto and Ireland, it is 2am. Let us be honest with the people of Queensland when we run this rhetoric out there about the impact of these laws. Stopping the service of alcohol at 2am in these cities does not impact on their desirability as a tourist destination—as it will not in Queensland, because we are not just about our night life. That represents one facet of our overall tourism offering—it is an important part, but it is one element.

Similarly, many of these areas have vibrant music scenes which are not inhibited by their liquor licensing laws. I have already talked about the New South Wales figures about licensed venues. Let me talk about closer to home though. Are we honestly expected to believe that the Sunshine Coast precinct—one of the fastest growing tourism regions—would voluntarily impose a 1am lockout on themselves if it was going to affect tourism, if it was going to close businesses, if it was going to result in job losses? No. If it was not going to have any impact on reducing violence, would they do it? No. The Sunshine Coast knows it works, it improves tourism, and that is why they are now getting cruise ships and they are one of the fastest growing areas for tourism.

The evidence is there—members only need to open their eyes and look at it.

There is strong support for Queensland to act

The bill has the support of the Queensland Police Service, the Queensland Coalition for Action on Alcohol, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, the AMA Queensland, the Queensland Police Union, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Clubs Queensland, Healthy Options Australia, National Alliance for Action on Alcohol, the Salvation Army Australia Eastern Territory, the national Trauma Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Lives Lived Well, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Queensland Nurses’ Union, the Queensland Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies and the Australian Christian Lobby—just to name a few.

Sometimes you just have to do what is right, put aside what it means for your longevity in this job, the votes, just stand here in this esteemed institution and make a difference. I am proud that I am.


Yvette D'Ath

The Honourable Yvette D’Ath is the Queensland Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Minister for Training and Skills.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Bob Dale Reply

    A bold and necessary step to bring about a better and safer life for Queenslanders. Three cheers!

  2. Chris Reply

    A knee jerk reaction that won’t solve the problem. Great intentions however misguided they may be..

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