Drink Tank

OLGR closure puts Newcastle at risk

The New South Wales (NSW) Government has effectively closed down the Newcastle Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR) branch.  The most disappointing feature of that decision, in addition to the subterfuge, poor treatment of dedicated public servants and lack of transparency; is the government’s complete failure to consult with our community.

Newcastle is recognised as leading the country in sustained reductions in alcohol related non-domestic violence, whilst simultaneously increasing business prosperity and jobs in the night-time economy. A package of enforceable liquor license conditions across the entire central business district drinking precinct with no exemptions, took effect in March 2008.

This was a direct consequence of Newcastle having the highest rate of assaults in NSW.

These enforceable liquor license conditions included a modest reduction in late closing times and an earlier one way door (“lockout”) requirement.

The measures contributed to the 64 per cent reduction in assaults and a more than a 100 per cent increase in the number of smaller, more diverse licensed premises.

The “vibe” or culture of Newcastle has undergone a remarkable transformation in the time since these changes were implemented. The improvements have generated overwhelming community and patron support.

The resulting safer streets in and around the CBD have proven better for Newcastle’s business.

This result is no mean feat when the powerful Australian Hotels Association (AHA) and other industry scaremongers proclaimed “the draconian conditions would devastate Newcastle” and still predict the same for the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and Kings Cross.

The local OLGR officers and police were some of the unsung heroes in the success of the Newcastle liquor license conditions.

These brave public servants, who covered the whole northern region, were regularly confronted by drunk, violent and abusive patrons and some non-co-operative licensees.

Most were assaulted whilst working into the earlier hours of the morning attempting to improve the safety within and outside licensed premises.

What amounts to the effective demise of a permanent presence of impartial OLGR inspectors is a godsend for those in the industry who wish to press or exceed the compliance envelope.

The likelihood of this is higher given the increased level of competition for customers associated with the substantial growth in local liquor outlets.

Some OLGR officers were a thorn in the side of problematic venue owners across the whole of the northern region.

The regular presence of these OLGR officers at unpredictable hours was an important cost-free alcohol harm prevention factor that did not appear on the department’s budget bottom line.

The sustainability of Newcastle’s pre-eminent record of alcohol harm prevention is at serious risk because of the loss of a permanent experienced local OLGR enforcement presence and increasing pressure by the thirsty industry to water down our effective proven controls on hours and primary service of alcohol authorisations.

One cannot help to think that the two issues are sadly connected given the failure of the Minister concerned to consult beforehand with our local community.

This article was first published in the Newcastle Herald.

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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