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Moore’s stand on alcohol is a model to follow

15 February 2011 1,884 views No Comment

If Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore is successful in her attempts to change late-night drinking patterns and the trouble that goes with it, she will earn a significant place in our history. Indeed, her plan should be regarded as a template for how councils and governments should deal with the liquor industry in Australia.

The truth is that most politicians municipal, state, and federal don’t have the gumption to tackle a problem that is endemic in Australia: booze-related violence.

It indisputable that increased trading hours of licensed premises, in particular 24-hour liquor outlets, are associated with increased levels of alcohol-related harm to drinkers themselves, but also to others. The last two decades have seen significant increases in the number of licensed premises in Australia and hours of trading have been relaxed to the point of the ridiculous. We have also seen a corresponding increase in the number of alcohol-related physical and sexual assaults and in dangerously antisocial behaviour fuelled by alcohol.

In what could be a model for the nation, Moore is currently planning how best to manage late-night licensed premises in Sydney. The requirements of public infrastructure and services are clearly different from those required in the daytime. Investment in improved services and better design to accommodate the different use of city spaces at night are both necessary. Extended opening hours in Sydney on Friday and Saturday nights result in extremely high levels of antisocial behaviour, which have a severe impact on public order. This especially applies to Kings Cross, which experiences well over 60 per cent of all incidents of antisocial behaviour in the city.

Moore maintains that extended hours of operation are a privilege to be earned by well-managed venues, not a right to be abused by irresponsible operators. Importantly, in terms of curbing alcohol-related harms, her plan enables the City of Sydney to wind back the extended trading hours of the relatively small, but statistically very significant, number of rogue licensed venues. Under Sydney’s Late Night Trading Plan, base trading hours are granted permanently, while extended trading hours are granted on a trial basis for up to five years. Under Moore’s plan, poor operators do not get extended trading hours renewed, and receive only their base trading hours. This provides a significant incentive for operators to manage their premises properly and currently has the backing of the Police Association, the Australian Medical Association and the Nurses Association whose members see firsthand the devastating effects of alcohol-fuelled violence. The Sydney plan balances the interests of licensees with the need to ensure the safety of their patrons, as well as controlling areas where pubs and clubs are located. This approach involves rewarding well-managed establishments, while withdrawing privileges from those who do not deserve to have them.

Trial periods, which are provided in the NSW planning legislation, have been part of Sydney’s plan since its inception in 2008. The concept of trial trading hours is not a new one. In Queensland, extended trading hours for liquor licences are granted via renewable permit. New York City and Amsterdam require liquor licences to be renewed annually or bi-annually. These night-time economies are thriving and business has not been affected by having a licence on effective trial, and one which requires regular renewal. A report by the New York Nightlife Association in 2004 estimated that the night-time economy generated $10 billion each year, with an estimated 65 million people visiting the city’s bars and clubs annually, making the night-time economy one of the most important facets to New York City life. The same should apply in Australia’s major cities.

The current state Minister for Planning, Tony Kelly, opposes the City of Sydney plan, on the grounds it is causing ”uncertainty in the community”. However, the reality is that the NSW Labor Government will be easily defeated at the March 26 election and this will give NSW a new planning minister from the Liberal-National coalition and a unique opportunity for concerted action to tackle the huge problems associated with the liquor industry, especially late-night violence. A whole-of-government approach to these issues is urgently needed in all our major cities. In Sydney, Clover Moore was an enthusiastic and active participant in the Sydney Liquor Taskforce, which unfortunately was disbanded by the NSW Labor Government in late 2009. This potentially important taskforce involved senior government bureaucrats, and liquor industry and council representatives working together to find solutions to the problems of alcohol and violence in inner-Sydney. The City of Sydney has indicated that it would welcome the re-establishment of the Sydney Liquor Taskforce or a similar cooperative body.

State, federal and major municipal governments should unite to stem the scourge of alcohol-fuelled late-night violence. Future generations will thank them for it and may salute Clover Moore as a visionary for her stand.

Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 33 books, most recently My Name is Ross: An alcoholic’s journey.

The Canberra Times, 15 February 2011

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