Drink Tank

Newcastle’s after dark nightmare revisited

Most Dan Murphy’s stores are located in close proximity to residential areas, and it is our hope the new Coogee store will be likewise warmly embraced by locals and visitors as bringing improved amenity to the area.”

Shane Tremble, general manager, corporate services at the Woolworths-owned Endeavour Drinks Group

“Amenity”, “vibrancy” and “customer convenience”  is the language of choice of the alcohol industry when touting the “benefits” of another bottle shop, another pub and longer trading hours for everyone.

In the quote above, Mr Tremble was justifying a new Dan Murphy’s in Coogee NSW, having won Land & Environment Court approval for a business literally no one, including the local Council and local residents wanted.

In truth, Woolworths is only concerned with the ‘vibrancy’ of its own balance sheets, and the ‘amenity’ of its own commercial interests.

Local councils across the nation play a pivotal role in preventing alcohol related harms through the planning approval process and other alcohol availability strategies like those below developed by Newcastle City Council that attracted the strong support of the local Australian Hotels Association (AHA).

Today on Drink Tank, well-known community advocate, Tony Brown argues the Newcastle City Council, that also owns two inner city pubs, has found itself dancing to the tune of the powerful   alcohol industry to the detriment of public safety and local residents’ amenity.

The near-fatal head injuries suffered by an aspiring young soccer player from a recent unprovoked one punch assault (NH 8/5), should be a sober reminder to those with a vested interest in weakening the life-saving package of Newcastle’s modest alcohol controls.

Newcastle Council, the AHA and their supporters appear selectively deaf to the dire warnings from our town’s most trusted and respected senior police, health officials, university and HMRI researchers, 400 public and private doctors. These representatives rightly assert that reducing these current unacceptable levels of alcohol-fuelled harms must be our collective No.1 priority.

Newcastle still has a problem with alcohol violence with a rate of assaults in the CBD nearly 10 times the NSW average. Why can’t those demanding a weakening in controls handle this inconvenient truth?

Council’s proposed glossy Afterdark nightmare strategy promotes longer and stronger drinking, a further increase in outlet density (a known predictor of alcohol harm) and the generation of more unacceptable noise and antisocial disturbances – something the mayor tells us inner-city residents and families are just going to have to get used to. The council’s complex model to ‘incentivise’ all outlets with exemptions to sell more grog risks becoming a literal ‘overkill’.

The council also appears to have failed to inform the Horton review that it has a pecuniary interest is some CBD licensed premises including the Queens Wharf Brewery where it receives rent and a revenue share from sales. The review inexplicably preferred council’s, the alcohol industry’s submissions and a misleading change.org online petition, over those of our above most trusted experts and a HNEH survey of real community sentiment.

Short memories also extend to the new tourism boss (NH 5/5) who is pedalling the nonsensical alcohol industry line that the decade-long variation in closing/lockout times and modest drink controls confuse patrons to the extent they justify weakening alcohol controls. This is another example of vested interests king-hitting the golden goose.

However, it is the package of conditions in Newcastle’s alcohol controls that have reduced violence and crime which is the key reason for the renaissance of our CBD, live music and 110% increase in a diverse range of licensed restaurants and smaller bars.

Council appears to have abandoned the interests of current and impending 3,000 additional inner-city families’ safety and amenity. They take no account of the likely increase in offensive loud noise and conduct of highly intoxicated patrons migrating between more late trading licensed premises. They expect families and tourists to be hermetically sealed behind costly double glazed windows to 4am and be deprived of cooling sea breezes – all for the sake of prioritising key parts of a booze-soaked CBD adjoining major residential complexes – as party central.

Council failed for a lengthy period to enforce DA noise conditions against its own pub – the Brewery. Residents cannot expect any improvement in council’s double standard approach to enforcement and compliance given its placation of dominant alcohol industry interests.

It’s time this council started to govern for all the community’s interests – not just those who provide the best photo/media opportunities.

There is, however, common ground.

The Newcastle community expects fair, impartial, inclusive and transparent civic leadership – supported by a strong and open governance process. Inner city residents and families have demonstrated their accommodation of reasonable change.

What the community doesn’t want is a council that surrounds itself with advisors from only those who financially benefit from its untested alcohol harm revitalisation policy. A policy unsupported by the most reliable independent evidence and all senior representatives of our front-line emergency and medical services.

This article is an edited and expanded draft of an article first published by the Newcastle Herald on 15 May 2018

Read Tony Brown’s submission to the Newcastle Council After Dark 2018 – 2022 strategy

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”.

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