Drink Tank

Licence to drink to excess: Not in our backyard. Not in anyone’s backyard – not ever again

2011 Resident’s Association’s Helen Crossing tells the Senate Inquiry into Personal Choice and Community Impacts that the failed social experiment that saw the promotion of alcohol consumption in Kings Cross and the attendant harms to people and which culminated in the deaths of two young men is ample evidence that regulations need to remain in place.

The introduction of lockouts and early closing times, along with other measures, has been and continues to be an appropriate and responsible strategy. What other evidence needs to be made available to convince the Committee that laws do need to be in place to regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol?

The implementation of lockouts and last drinks has made a huge change for the better, the efficacy of which had already been long since shown in Newcastle.

Our community witnessed the obvious and predictable reality of what a hyper-density of licensed premises, many with overextended trading hours, and attracting huge and unmanageable crowds of patrons in a micro-sized geographical area necessarily yields.

For years, residents and the local police and other emergency workers, including staff at St Vincent’s Hospital casualty department warned government about the real dangers of the night time economy in Kings Cross, only to be ignored.

Chaos was allowed to reign. Too many patrons, and a government under the influence of too much alcohol. The former from industrial strength drinking and the latter yielding to illegitimate influence and pressure from the Australian Hotels Association.

Residents who didn’t feel safe walking through Kings Cross were forced into a state of virtual lock-down every weekend night as upwards of 20,000 patrons (a figure exceeding the total population of the entire district of five suburbs) descended on any Friday or Saturday night.

The issue of impacts on health from the Kings Cross night time economy could not be more obvious.

The warnings by staff in St Vincent’s Hospital casualty about the numbers and types of injuries provide ample evidence of the harms that are done by people to themselves and others when under the influence of alcohol. And let us not exclude the risks to life and limb for the health care workers themselves, including ambulance staff, along with the demonstrations of disrespect and anti-social behaviour they endured while trying to do their jobs.

Now, the severity and number of injuries on any weekend night admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital

casualty are significantly down on weekend nights, especially in those late night and early morning hours when they formerly peaked.

But those refer only to the immediate or short term health costs which are costly enough in terms of both dollars as well as the injuries, if not deaths. The long term damages to health from excess alcohol abuse are well known, well documented, and indisputable. There is also a strong link among long-term excessive consumption of alcohol, domestic violence, and neglect of children.

There are many ways of enjoying oneself and for too long and for too many people that term has only implied consuming alcohol in excess. It is absurd to think that the ‘enjoyment’ of any individual or group of individuals can be promoted at the expense of the safety, enjoyment, and loss of amenity for others.

The residents in the 2011 postcode area did not ‘enjoy’ the imposed sleep deprivation and nor did they enjoy streets full of drunken and disorderly people. There was a high level of fear and concern for personal safety as well as distress at observing the vulnerability of drunken people and violent behaviour.

Most certainly, Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie looked forward to enjoying themselves on what was to be the last night of their conscious lives terminated in Kings Cross. So whose enjoyment at whose expense?

When ‘enjoyment’ means depriving others of their safety and rights to amenity of the greater community, it has gone too far. Far too frequently the very real concerns about alcohol-related issues, harms and costs to society are dismissed by criticising those who complain as being wowsers and spoil sports.

But in a democracy, enjoyment needs to be for all – not for one individual at the expense of another.

Nor must the Committee be deceived into thinking that, what is after all a small minority of owners/licensees of pubs and clubs in Kings Cross had some inalienable, enduring and exclusive entitlement to the night time economy.

Why should the alcohol industry be granted so much special consideration by government?

There has been so much hyperbolic narrative from the liquor industry in Kings Cross as individual licensees refuse to adapt to the changing environment and adapt their business models.

In truth, the loss of jobs due to changes in Kings Cross is inconsequential when compared to job losses and expenses incurred in other industry sectors as a result of changing regulations and economic pressures.

Kings Cross is belatedly undergoing a rebranding where sanity and civility are becoming the norm. The daytime economy is becoming more viable and there are actually fewer empty shopfronts than in many other Sydney districts.

The legacy of those two young men’s deaths as well as of the assaults and other harms done to people over the course of what was a disastrous social experiment will stay with our district, our city and our state forever. We need to and want to move on. Kings Cross is first and foremost a village with a diverse community. It is this that we want to see preserved and fostered.

This is an extract of the 2001 Resident’s Association’s submission to the Senate Standing committee on Economics Inquiry into Personal Choice and Community Impacts (Submission # 421)

Download the full submission here.

Helen Crossing

Helen is the convener of the the 2011 Residents’ Association (2011RA). 2011RA represents the residents of the 2011 postcode area of Sydney, Australia. This includes the suburbs of Kings Cross, Potts Point, Elizabeth Bay, Rushcutters Bay and Woolloomooloo.

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