The lockout laws introduced in Kings Cross in late February this year have been heralded as a success, with numbers of violent assaults dropping by half since the introduction of the laws. The changes in crime rates after adopting similar lockout laws for Newcastle, over a substantially longer period of 5 years, averaged at a 30% reduction in crime. While both of these areas seem to reflect positive changes in behaviour caused, or at least influenced, by restrictions on late-night trading of bars and hotels, the statistics lose much of their effect when viewed alongside the crime rates of other areas in New South Wales. In the same period in the similar-sized cities of Penrith, Wollongong, Sutherland Shire and Gosford, similar or greater reductions in crime rates were recorded, despite the absence of any similar lockout provisions for liquor establishments; suggesting lockouts don’t work as the provisions in Newcastle had little effect in bringing down the rates of violent crimes.
With little demonstrable direct impact on the rates of violent behaviour, the negative effects of the lockout laws may outweigh the supposed benefits that they bring. The economic impact of reduced trading hours is a cause of concern for many business owners and the reduced activity of Sydney’s iconic nightlife precincts threatens the city’s tourism sector.
Further issues with the lockout provisions could be that rather than promoting responsible drinking habits, the restrictions encourage patrons to drink more in a shorter time period, or simply travel to locations unaffected by the legislation. NSW Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch admitted to the ABC that the new rules could “just move the crowds and violence elsewhere” . Peter Miller, Principal Research Fellow at Deakin University, also acknowledged the potential for the implementation of restrictions in some areas to simply move problems to other areas, which may not be as well-equipped to deal with them.
Patrons have regularly been shown to travel across the Queensland border for the increased trading hours offered by northern NSW venues, and Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate has already vocalised his ambition to capitalise on NSW’s restrictions, hoping to tempt NSW patrons across the border and turn the Gold Coast into “Australia’s Las Vegas”. Thus while it may appear that crime rates decrease in areas affected by the lockout provisions, it may simply be that the violence has been relocated to another area. Logically, this increased congregation of patrons in an area may lead to increased levels of alcohol-fuelled violence, with crowding at licensed venues identified as a leading propagator of violent activity.
Conversely, decreases in the level of patronage of a given precinct will logically reduce the number of incidents in that area. Statistics on the reduction in patron numbers since the introduction of the lockout in Sydney don’t appear to receive the same attention in the media as those relating to decreases in violent behaviour. The reality appears to be that since the O’Farrell crackdown, crowds have deserted the Cross by up to 30%, with other anecdotal reports depicting the desertion of previously renowned nightlife spots.
Identified instigators and catalysts of alcohol-related violence include diverse factors such as personal biology, type of liquor consumed, characteristic of the licensed premises and surrounds and the culture of the community1. With the lockout provisions focusing on just one of the multitude of factors shown to increase the chances of violent activity, it can only be said that the provisions are a poor attempt to remedy a much larger social problem. A number of owners and managers of licensed venues throughout NSW attribute the general decrease in violent behaviour they have witnessed to their habit of self-policing; adopting strategies ranging from providing free water and food for patrons and limiting the types of drinks they sell after a certain time .
What is needed is not a wide-reaching ban on the sale of liquor, but more targeted attempts to change the behaviour of both managers of licensed venues and “high-risk” patrons. This could be achieved with a mix of increased education and awareness of alcohol-related violence, and incentives for operators of licensed venues to self-regulate and adopt responsible behaviour, with punishment reserved for offenders and for those who do not or cannot sufficiently manage patron violence.
1. [Kai Pernanen. 1998. Prevention of alcohol-related violence in Contemporary Drug Problems 25(3); 477-509]?