Why O’Farrell’s New Alcohol Reforms Won’t Work

barry-ofarrell-eden-caceda-alcohol-reforms

In recent weeks NSW premier Barry O’Farrell announced a state government crackdown on alcohol and drug related violence after a string of attacks on nighttime city goers in recent months. As a quick response to citizen panic regarding alcohol fuelled violence, the O’Farrell government’s new controversial laws have been backed by NSW mayors, health specialists and the general public, many of whom have been concerned with safety in the CBD during the evening. However, the new “One Punch Laws” have faced severe backlash on social media, with people questioning the measures taken and how the new laws may in fact perpetuate more violence.

Under the new reforms, pubs and clubs in Sydney’s CBD will be forced to lock out customers from 1:30 am and cease alcohol trading by 3am. O’Farrell also announced that bottle shops will need to close by 10pm or face high fines. Venues will also be subject to a risk-based licensing scheme where advanced fees will be imposed on venues that trade later, are larger or are in high-risk areas.

Unfortunately government officials don’t seem to understand the types of individuals who are out at these areas at these times. Most young adults populate areas on Sydney’s George Street, Kings Cross and Surry Hills and alcohol is a major aspect of nightlife. Many nightclubs do not begin to fill up until late at night, commonly around 11pm. With these new laws, this means that people have two and a half hours to get into a club or face being turned out onto the street.

Likewise the plans to cease alcohol trading at 3am may not work in favour of the government. In Sydney taxi change over takes place between the hours of 3 and 4am and unless each person has a designated driver that would be happy to pick them up at this hour, that means thousands will leave nightclubs and hit the streets to go home with no public transport and no other methods of getting home. The O’Farrell government should certainly repair the late night transport system before pushing people out of nightclubs and pubs, which are already heavily policed areas. It is unacceptable to have a lockout at 1:30am when the last train out of Kings Cross is half an hour earlier. Even Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has warned that violence could move into neighboring areas unless all night transport was improved.

Moreover businesses, small independent liquor stores and bars with over the counter sales will lose valuable trade opportunities with the new 10pm close down. In addition to these business owners, the law reforms will affect innocent individuals who work in hospitality: club owners, tour promoters, DJs and bar staff. And while the new laws specify that venues can remain open at 3am, many question why a venue would choose to remain open after 3am if it was not making money over the bar.

Mandatory minimum sentences of eight years in jail will also apply to fatal one-punch attacks involving alcohol and drugs. O’Farrell also announced mandatory minimum sentences would be introduced to other areas including reckless wounding (3 year minimum), assaulting a police officer in the execution of duty (2 year minimum), affray (4 year minimum) and sexual assault (5 years minimum). Police will also be able to test for drugs and alcohol if an individual has committed an assault. Mandatory sentencing has faced negative criticism in Western Australia, being considered arbitrary and not proportionate to the crime.

The most important thing that is continuously being ignored is that bars, clubs and licensed venues already have large amounts of security to avoid violence and excessive drinking. O’Farrell should be trying to police and control the areas outside these venues or the streets, rather than impose laws to clear these pubs and clubs thus pushing them onto the streets. Some have even said that the new restrictions would lead to a number of illegal warehouse parties instead of licensed areas that operate under Responsible Service of Alcohol rules.

Social media has also focused on the legislation, which exempts casinos, prompting the concern that richer, high-class locations will continue to make money while smaller nightclubs and pubs will face more legislations than ever before. Luckily restaurants, small bars and tourism accommodation facilities will be exempt from the new laws, though Sydney’s The Star Casino and upcoming Packer casino and hotel Barangaroo face no restrictions.

Other measuring of the package include that voluntary intoxication will be removed as a mitigating factor in sentencing people for alcohol fuelled crimes. Free buses leaving every 10 minutes from Kings Cross to the CBD only shuffle citizens between the two populated hotspots without focusing on how these people are to get home. A freeze on liquor licenses for new clubs and pubs and a social media and advertising campaign targeted at alcohol fuelled violence will be part of the reform. Increased on the spot fines for antisocial behaviour and an increase from two years to 25 years maximum sentence of illegal supply and possession of steroids are new laws that are sure to face new criticism.

What the government and public fail to notice in the highly-reported deaths of Thomas Kelly in 2012 and Daniel Christie this year is that these occurred within the hours of 9pm and 10:30pm, long before the focus time-frame of the new reforms that aim to prevent attacks of this kind. These new laws also appear to ignore the new crime statistics announced by the Australia Bureau of Statistics data that shows alcohol fuelled crime on the decline, comparing with public concern about this crime on a high.

The new laws will be put into place by February 1 and the rest of the reform package by the end of April. The most unfortunate aspect of all this is that these new laws impinge negatively on the 95% of people who go out, have a good time and not cause trouble. In saying this, things need to be done to address the alcohol-fuelled violence in Sydney, just not the new law reforms pioneered by Barry O’Farrell.

Originally published on Aphra Magazine, February 20, 2014.

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