Drink Tank

Pubs, clubs and bars working hard to increase the risk of harms

Fans of The Beatles will remember their song ‘Eight days a week’. Apparently it was inspired by a chauffeur who, when asked about how he’d been, said he was ‘working hard, working eight days a week’.

Well it seems that the alcohol industry in Queensland is keen to work equally hard, if not more so. A recent analysis on the impact of lifting the moratorium on late-night trading reveals just how hard the industry is prepared to work to increase the risk of harms.

For those that are not familiar with the situation in Queensland, a moratorium on applications to extend late-night trading by licensed venues was introduced in 2009. However venues within identified extended trading precincts were exempt, including areas such as Brisbane CBD, Fortitude Valley, Caxton Street, Broadbeach and Surfers Paradise.

After a number of extensions of this liquor licensing freeze and the introduction of the Newman Government’s Safe Night Out Strategy, the moratorium was lifted on 1 September 2014.

An analysis of the applications made to extend late night trading hours in the first six months, revealed that between 1 September 2014 and 28 February 2015, there were 107 applications to the Office of Liquor Gaming and Regulation (OLGR). By the end of February, 40 of these applications had been approved, 67 were pending and none had been rejected.

What is significant about these applications is not only the quantity before OLGR, but the number of extra hours that were being sought.

Requests varied from an extra two hours per week to an extra 21 hours per week, with an average of 12 extra hours per week per venue. This might not seem like a lot, but it is important to remember that not every venue sought to increase their hours equally over the week (12 hours across three or four nights paints a different picture) and that when you multiply 12 hours per venue by 107 venues, that’s a lot of extended trading across the state: 1,292 extra hours per week to be precise.

It’s also important to note that these extra hours aren’t just ordinary hours. What differentiates these late night trading hours, between midnight and 5am, from ordinary trading is that they occur at the time when people are most at risk of harm.

This means that if all these applications are approved, remembering that not one had been rejected by OLGR as at 28 February, Queensland will collectively have an extra 192 high risk trading hours every day. And that’s just from the 107 applications received so far out of over 7,000 licensed venues.

These findings may not be surprising to some, but they are sobering in the context of the increased risk of harm associated with all these extra late night trading hours in Queensland.

Data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) in New South Wales shows why late night trading is such a concern, finding that the number of assaults on licensed premises peaks between 12am and 3am. It also found that the highest risk of harm was on Saturday nights, with alcohol-related assaults representing over 55 per cent of all assaults between 12am and 3am.

International research quantifies this increase in risk, showing that for every additional hour of late night trading there is a 16-20 per cent increase in alcohol related assaults.

So what does all this mean?

Firstly, it means that lifting the moratorium on late-night trading has led to a significant increase in the availability of alcohol in Queensland. Even if just a small number of venues increase their late night trading hours, this can lead to a large number of extra trading hours.

And, importantly, this increase in the availability leads to a significant increase in the risk of alcohol-related harm for Queenslanders, particularly for those in Brisbane and the Gold Coast where the largest number of applications came from.

Pubs, clubs and bars will be working hard. Unfortunately, as a result, so will Queensland’s police and emergency services.

What should governments be doing?

Governments have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of the community. International and local research shows an equal and opposite effect to the increase in harm described above. For every hour of reduced trading, there is roughly a 20 per cent reduction in assault. It makes sense then that governments should be reducing trading hours to minimise alcohol-related harm, rather than increasing availability and risk.

Governments should be looking at what has happened in Queensland following the lifting of the moratorium and consider whether they want to increase alcohol-related harms in their communities or decrease harms. This is particularly important for those states and territories that already have similar freezes in place and are thinking of, or already taking steps to, relax this measure. The Queensland response should act as a warning against going down this path.

Moratoriums or freezes are not permanent measures, but they do buy time to look at the other options available to them. Governments already know what the most effective measures to reduce alcohol-related harm are taking action on price, availability and advertising.

Governments need to put in place an effective regulatory framework that reduces trading hours, before lifting any freeze on late-night trading applications. They should do this as a matter of urgency to prevent further harm from occurring, which is ultimately what governments should be all about.

Meredythe Crane

Meredythe Crane is a Senior Policy Officer at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE). Her background is in health and education. Meredythe previously worked at the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia.

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