Do we really want to roll the dice?

Do we really want to roll the dice and risk all we have achieved?

Sydney’s lockout laws have only been in place for two years and rates of violence and hospital emergency department presentations are down.

The action of the O’Farrell Government in February 2014 achieved what health and law enforcement experts promised. Yet, here we are two years later talking about abandoning these life saving measures.

What have we accomplished?

The lives of those who live and visit Kings Cross have been transformed.

Police, previously diverted to act as taxpayer-funded crowd controllers for pub and clubs, can return to fighting crime.

St Vincent’s Hospital emergency department doctors can focus less on the bloody aftermath of alcohol-fuelled street violence, and instead on other patients in need.

The late night phone calls to the families of teenagers suffering life-threatening injuries have stopped.

And taxpayers have been relieved of some of the financial burden of managing the gross oversupply of alcohol in Kings Cross and Sydney’s CBD.

Christine Foster’s view, (‘Sydney’s been locked out too long’, Daily Telegraph, 2/2/17) is typical of those calling for the cancellation of the massively successful lockout laws.

A flawed argument that suggests just because the crisis seems to have passed we can now relax these modest restrictions.

Let’s apply this misplaced logic to other areas of community risk.

There hasn’t been an Australia airline hijacking in years; let’s discontinue security checks at airports, perhaps even allow people to carry firearms again.

There hasn’t been a cholera outbreak in what, forever; let’s save ourselves the expense of chlorinating the public water supply.

There are fewer road crashes; let’s relax the allowable blood alcohol limit to 0.08, maybe even axe it.

None of these things will happen because governments understand the risks of removing these safeguards and the importance of acting in the public interest. Governments’ role is to protect the community.

The problem with the hectoring of the opponents of Sydney’s modest restrictions on alcohol supply is their refusal to accept, or even understand, this notion of the public interest. Foster, the Keep Sydney Open crowd and bar owners seem to think we can have it all – late trading and no alcohol harm.

The data says otherwise.

The evidence of medical experts shows the longer the hours of trading, the more alcohol harm. And it is not down to a few out of control drunken louts.

As Justice Callinan observed, “Of all the groups holding opinions, it seems to me that the medical profession and the emergency workers have the least or no self-interest. Their opinion, formed on the frontline as it were, must carry a great deal of weight”.

We live in odd dystopian times, where the truth is nothing more than what you say it is, where limits on freedom are an anathema, and where self-interest comes ahead of the community interest.

As a representative of the ratepayers of Sydney City Council, Christine Foster should see quiet streets at 4am as a good thing. Her constituents can get some sleep, her council workers can clean the streets, and doctors can stand down for the night.

The lesson from Sydney’s world-leading lockout laws is that alcohol harm has been reduced. The smart thing to do is to now apply what we have learned more widely. As we have done with road safety, disease control, and terrorism.


An abridged version of this post was first published on The Daily Telegraph as “Lockout laws are keeping Sydney safe” on 7 February 2017.

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Michael Thorn

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

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