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Changes to the liquor laws are no gift to NSW

With Christmas fast approaching, the Baird government is hell bent on its image makeover.

Think less the Grinch that tried to euthanise the greyhound industry, destroy local councils and shut down an entire city, and more the loveable Santa determined to win your affection and in the longer term your vote.

Ably assisted by Minister for Justice and chief elf Troy Grant, the government was doling out the gifts on Wednesday, announcing that key aspects of its response to the Callinan Liquor Law Review would come into effect as soon as Friday 16 December. Merry Christmas.

“We have brought forward these reforms so communities and businesses across NSW can take advantage of later trading times during the busy summer holiday period,” Grant said.

You heard the elf. This is a gift for everyone, communities and businesses alike. Could there be any more thoughtful and generous a gift?

If you own a small bar you’d be happy. Where once you could serve 60 patrons at a time, now you can serve 100. As a potential customer that sounds potentially cramped and uncomfortable, but I imagine Sydney’s small-bar owners feel all their Christmases have come at once.

Packaged liquor retailers and home delivery services who can now trade for an hour longer until 11pm must be grinning too.

No matter their success – and make no mistake the suite of trading hour measures to reduce alcohol violence in NSW has been enormously successful – the Premier was always going to adopt the cautious recommendations of the Callinan Inquiry.

But any effort to fine tune the trading hour measures, in an attempt to address the balance between business profits and community health and safety, must not forget that lives are in the balance.

In its rush to accept and enact Callinan’s recommendations, there’s a troubling sense that the government, and the Labor Opposition, have forgotten how we arrived at this place.

The carnage on Sydney streets and in its hospitals. The senseless violence, preventable injuries, lives lost, and families destroyed.

Relaxing Sydney’s trading hour measures ahead of the silly season, as warm weather and Christmas festivities ignite in a firestorm of increased alcohol harm, is akin to giving away matches to children during bushfire season.

So I ask you, what would you like this Christmas?

For your local bottle-o to trade for an extra hour? For additional customers to be crammed into your favourite small bar like sardines? Or for your loved ones – your friends and family, sons and daughters, or husbands and wives – to arrive home safely at night.

Are we happy for owners of small bars to grow slightly richer if that means a return to hospital emergency departments overrun with victims and instigators of alcohol violence?

Ultimately what price do we place on a human life?

That’s not a question for the alcohol industry to answer. They will lowball you every time.

And we must remain guarded and vigilant against an industry that, no matter the concession, will continue to push relentlessly for an ideal trading environment with complete deregulation regardless of the cost.

My advice to the Premier? While you may have forgotten (and I sincerely trust you haven’t), the people of Sydney have longer memories. They have not, and will not, forget so easily why these trading hour measures were first introduced.

And to the people of NSW, Troy Grant’s present might have your name on it but it was clearly meant for someone else.

This post was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Michael Thorn

Michael Thorn

Michael is the Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), and tweets from @MichaelTThorn.

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