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NAAPA 2015: Alcohol-related violence

The following address was given by Inspector Pat Gooley at the NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) 2015 NSW Election Platform launch. Inspector Gooley is Vice President of the Police Association of NSW.

The alliance launched their platform ‘Not one more’ at Sydney’s Parliament House in November 2014, urging NSW MP’s to take action on alcohol.

Each day in NSW alcohol results in 66 assaults, including 27 domestic assaults, 28 emergency department presentations, 142 hospitalisations and three deaths. One more harm from alcohol is one too many.

The upcoming State Election in March 2015 provides NSW with an opportunity to ensure that their next Government continues to work towards a comprehensive plan that addresses alcohol harms.

I stand before you as a representative of 16,500 hardworking police who go out every day and every night and risk their lives.

16,500 men and women who stood on a parade ground one morning and swore an oath to risk their lives to protect their community.

16,500 men and women who began their policing careers optimistic, excited and believing they could make a difference.

16,500 men and women who quickly realised their working lives would be dominated and at times ruined by alcohol related crime – more often than not alcohol fuelled violence.

It does not take long for a police officer to realise that working Friday and Saturday nights means nearly every job will be alcohol related.

Too often the consequences are tragic – too often the police are victims of alcohol related violence.

For me, it was during the Sydney Olympics in 2000. While the world came over to our place for a party, alcohol fuelled violence was not on holidays.

I was working in a suburban Command when we were called to an incident. Two workmates had been drinking most of the afternoon and well into the early hours of the morning. On the way home a simple argument developed and one punched the other to the ground.

Moments later, as my offsider and I tried to hold that victims skull still and we watched that young man take his last breath on the hard bitumen roadway, I realised this place has a very serious problem with alcohol.

Minutes later, when we found his friend hiding and I was handcuffing him, it really struck me. One mate had killed another. Over nothing. Neither had been in trouble, neither was known to be violent. But the excessive drinking had killed one man, and placed another in jail for four years. It had ruined two families.

This is the experience of many police. As a result of these experiences, the Police Association has long campaigned for reform in the way alcohol is licensed, promoted and sold in this state. Only for two reasons – a safer community and safer police.

I have been involved in that campaign – I have spoken to countless people, taken action, signed petitions and attended meetings.

But the events of last summer were the final straw for me.

As I spent New Year’s Eve in Victoria Street at Potts Point my heart broke. Not 10 metres from where Thomas Kelly was assaulted, and later died, Daniel Christie was also bashed and clung to life.

My heart broke for the ambulance workers who fought in vain to save this young man’s life.

My heart broke for the nurses and the doctors who used every ounce of their professional expertise to no avail.

My heart broke for the community who now had to face up to the reality and the consequences of another senseless and avoidable tragedy on their steps.

But most of all, my heart broke for another family that had raised a fine young man to see his life snatched away as it had only just begun.

In the period between these two assaults many changes to liquor laws were made. And on the face of it they made pubs and clubs marginally safer inside, but did nothing to improve the safety of our kids on the street.

My heart broke because I suspected we were about to lose another precious young life in senseless and preventable circumstances.

My heart broke because the young police involved in this incident now knew what I had learned in 2000 – and they will never be the same.

After not being able to sleep for three days and being rostered on another Friday and Saturday night at Kings Cross, I wrote to the then Premier and the then Hospitality Minister to let them know what was really going on. Not to give them the statistics, but the human side of these preventable tragedies – to challenge them as community leaders to actually lead.

For too long in this State the rules around licensing ignored community safety. For too long they ignored the realities played out on our streets most nights.

Police officers deal in evidence, and they know that ignoring the evidence will lead to unjust outcomes. And the evidence was clear – modest restrictions on closing times, lock outs and simple measures around serving practices have a dramatic impact on violence. It has been seen both in Australia and overseas.

It certainly must be acknowledged that our community leaders stood up.

In late 2013 the ALP Opposition committed to bringing in such restrictions. In February, following that horrible New Year’s Eve at Potts Point, the Liberal National NSW Government introduced restrictions across Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD.

Both the Government and Opposition should be congratulated for these reforms.

As the former Minister acknowledged following his recent parliamentary inquiry, they have had a dramatic impact on violence.

Naysayers and ‘interested parties’ will say the night time economy has died and venues are going broke – I say at what cost were they trading under the previous arrangements.

What cost is acceptable – one life lost, two lives lost, 5 jaws broken, 6 serious brain injuries, 100 teeth knocked out in one weekend?

How many of these injuries and deaths are acceptable to keep late trading? We say not one more.

Newcastle, Manly and Kings Cross are all areas that have seen dramatic reductions in violence – predominately by reducing hours of serving alcohol. Each area has reinvented itself. Newcastle and Manly have thriving entertainment precincts and Kings Cross is well on the way. Come up and have a look. Come and watch the live music on a Sunday afternoon at most venues in Kings Cross– because you would not have been able to do that last summer.

Despite these changes our Members are nervous. The transformation we have seen in Newcastle, Manly and Kings Cross cannot be achieved elsewhere without the licensing changes seen in these other NSW precincts. So we are nervous that we will see the same violence continue unabated.

Why should other communities be deprived of the improvements in safety and amenity that Newcastle, Manly and Kings Cross enjoy?

Why should members of other communities live in fear when their kids go out at night?

Why should they have to count the costs of alcohol fuelled violence?

It’s time for our leaders to acknowledge the evidence. These measures work and they save lives.

Roll them out to these other communities that are screaming out for reform. Commit to rolling them out state-wide. Commit to the safer streets our kids deserve.

The members of the Police Association say:

  • Not one more summer of drunken madness;
  • Not one more drunken punch up;
  • Not one more police officer assaulted by a drunk;
  • Not one more family told their child is never coming home; and
  • Not one more piece of treasure lost to alcohol fuelled violence.

View Inspector Pat Gooley’s presentation in full on Vimeo.

You can get involved in NAAPA’s Not One More campaign by sending an email to your local member calling on them to take action on alcohol. Find out more

Pat Gooley

Pat Gooley is the secretary of the Police Association of NSW and spokesperson for the Keep Sydney Safe/Last Drinks coalition.

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