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Vibrancy winning over violence in Sydney but not everyone is safe from alcohol harm

Alcohol is no longer the hero ingredient in Sydney’s vibrant nightlife. That’s the way it should be, and that’s the way that the silent majority across the community want it to stay.

The NSW Government’s late-night measures are credited with dramatic reductions in violence and serious injuries in Sydney’s entertainment precincts. Not only have they reduced alcohol harm, they have encouraged a positive shift in culture as the night-time economy expands and flourishes in a healthier, safer environment.

A recent Deloitte report has found there is already a shift away from narrowly equating ‘vibrancy’ with 24-hour access to alcohol. At the same time, Sydney has the strongest and most concentrated night-time economy in Australia, currently worth more than $27 billion.

The broader Sydney community agrees that their vibrant, inclusive and prosperous nightlife is not dependent on the dangerous oversupply of alcohol. There is tremendous community support for late-night measures that include last drinks and last entry, with 80 per cent of adults (18-34 year-olds) supporting 3am closing for pubs, clubs and bars.

This is a strong, albeit quiet, vote of confidence that the balance is right for ensuring vibrancy over violence, as the NSW joint select committee considers submissions in its cross-parliamentary review.

This extract from an opinion piece by Sydney resident Andrew Woodhouse published on the community platform Alt Media, reinforces the evidence that the committee cannot ignore.

A 2016 independent, forensic review by a former judge, The Honourable Ian Callinan QC, AC, examined 1,800 submissions, 30 stakeholder sessions and three roundtable conferences.

He shattered a few shibboleths and found: Local Liquor Accords are not enforceable; lockout results in Victoria were ambiguous in their meaning and reach and only had very brief life of three months; public safety has now been enhanced; lockouts reduced fatalities.

Failed state election candidate, Tyson Koh, from campaign group Keep Sydney Open, claimed 30 licenced venues had closed because of lockouts. Callinan noted “I cannot be satisfied that the closures were caused by the lockouts … the two precincts (KX and CBD) at night had been grossly overcrowded, violent, noisy, and in places dirty. After the lockouts they were transformed into much safer, quieter and cleaner areas … lockouts remain appropriate.”

Pubs and clubs were then granted another 30 minutes trading for a two-year trial.

Dr Grabs, St Vincent’s Hospital, saw a 60% reduction in face fractures after lockouts started and no alcohol-related deaths. “There is little or no evidence patrons have spread to other areas. Nearby hospitals report no increases,” he says.

The aim of the current review is to ensure that people enjoy a night out without fear or threats of violence. But there still remains a dark mark on Sydney that means there will never be a right time to weaken Sydney’s late-night measures.

Assault rates in Sydney remain higher than the state average; but worse, there is a devastating increase in alcohol-related sexual offences occurring on weekends.

This sickening trend is overlooked and is yet to be addressed. For this reason, the Premier and her team must stay strong and continue its good work, knowing that the majority of the community are behind them.

The NSW and ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) believes the next step is for the review committee to recommend rolling out the successful measures consistently across the city.

This would result in fairer policy and regulation, but much more importantly, it would help to ensure that all Sydneysiders have a good weekend without the fear or reality of alcohol-fuelled violence.

Michael Thorn

Michael was was Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) from January 2011 until November 2019

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