If you live on the east coast of Australia, you would have to be aware of the huge controversy about liquor licensing measures that have been introduced in New South Wales and Queensland.
New South Wales introduced 3am last drinks and 1.30am lockouts in Kings Cross and the Sydney Central Business District Entertainment Precincts in 2014. The current evaluation of these measures, required under the legislation that introduced them, provided plenty of opportunity for public debate. And there has been loud and repeated public debate.
On 1 July 2016, Queensland boldly went one step further, introducing similar measures but doing so state-wide. All venues licensed to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises are now required to serve last drinks at 2am, unless they are located in one of the 15 Safe Night Precincts (key entertainment areas) where alcohol can be served until 3am. From 1 February 2017, lockouts will be introduced to venues located in Safe Night Precincts that are approved to continue serving until 3am.
Like New South Wales, the Queensland Government has legislated for an evaluation of the measures to determine whether they are achieving their objectives. Unlike New South Wales, the evaluation started from the moment the changes were introduced. In fact, a range of pre-intervention data has been collected to better measure the impact of any changes and, where changes are observed, determine if these are sustained over time.
The QUeensland Alcohol-related violence and Night-Time Economy Monitoring (QUANTEM) project is being led by Professor Peter Miller from Deakin University’s Violence Prevention Group, and involves researchers from James Cook University, The University of Queensland, Curtin University of Technology, The University of Newcastle, Monash University, and La Trobe University.
Additional funding and in-kind support is provided by project partners; the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Lives Lived Well, the Australian Rechabite Foundation and Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre. QUANTEM will also work closely with government agencies such as Queensland Police, Queensland Health, and the Queensland Department of Justice.
The evaluation team will collect and analyse data on assaults, emergency department and ambulance presentations, noise complaints and pedestrian counts to see if the measures make a difference in reducing alcohol-related harm. It will also conduct a cost-benefit assessment that takes into account the effect on the night-time economy and the interviews and perspectives of key stakeholders and patrons. This will be a wide-ranging and in depth evaluation using models that incorporate outlet density, enforcement, demographic and other variables.
The evaluation of the measures is an important part of the alcohol policy reform being undertaken in Queensland and its conduct by independent researchers with expertise in this area is critical. These measures have attracted widespread publicity from the moment the Queensland Government announced that they were planning to introduce them.
Opposition from members of the alcohol industry, particularly venue operators, has been vocal. This has not abated since the legislation passed and measures introduced. Indeed, there appears to be a concerted campaign to undermine the measures. Some are saying that jobs are being lost and venues have closed as a result, but evidence to support these claims is not forthcoming. The closure of one particular venue has been blamed directly on the lockouts, despite the closure occurring in the month before the measures were introduced and despite the fact that lockouts don’t commence until 1 February 2017! Obviously there were other factors at play.
By contrast, the people of Queensland can have great confidence and trust in the QUantem project and a team comprised of respected public and community health scientists.
A major component of the evaluation will be the publication of a series of research papers in refereed international journals. Such papers are subject to international peer oversight. To the extent practicable this peer oversight provides an assurance that the research is objectively undertaken, that alternative interpretations of findings are considered, and that the findings comprise a reasonable and credible assessment of the legislation being evaluated. The extensive publication track record of the research team is itself evidence that the research will be conducted to internationally accepted standards.
It is crucial that we evaluate the measures and examine their impact with a critical eye. QUANTEM imposes an objective, independent, rigorously scientific approach to examining the impact of a range of measures over a sustained period of time. No vested interests are allowed. This is the best way to really understand whether these measures are effective and whether this is a policy that should be continued.
The Queensland Government should not only be congratulated for introducing these evidence based measures but also for being prepared to fund an independent evaluation that will critically examine whether or not these measures have been effective. The QUANTEM project will provide a detailed report to government once the evaluation is complete.