Lock out laws – a view from the coalface


Kings Cross at night

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently announced plans to conduct another review of Sydney's lockout laws. Introduced in 2014 to minimise the harm from alcohol in Sydney's night-life scene, the lockout laws came into effect in the wake of increased alcohol-related violence and injury overwhelming the inner city hospital system, and the one punch deaths of teenagers Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie.

Since the introduction of the laws, Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital has seen a decrease in alcohol-related presentations and admissions. Similarly, research conducted by the NSW Department of Justice found that there's been a 49 per cent reduction in alcohol-related assault in the Kings Cross Precinct and a 13 per cent decrease in the CBD. St Vincent's Clinical Director, Dr Nadine Ezard discusses the case for continuing the lockout laws, while addressing the need to keep Sydney's night-life vibrant.

The following is an edited version of an opinion piece by Dr Nadine Ezard, Clinical Director, Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent's Health, first published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Five years ago, the impact of alcohol-related violence and injuries on the hospital, in terms of presentations and admissions, was nothing short of severe. From our perspective, the lockout measures have been a success.

The number of alcohol-related injuries at St Vincent's have plummeted, including a reduction of serious facial fractures of more than 60 per cent. There have also been no alcohol-related deaths at the hospital since the measures were introduced.

But in continuing to support the measures, St Vincent's isn't unwilling to consider, and be a part of, a debate about efforts to inject further vibrancy into Sydney's night life. We're happy to examine other cities around the world, such as Amsterdam, and discuss what experiences they've had that might translate to Sydney.

Having just returned from the International Conference on Nightlife, Substance Use and Other Related Health Issues in that city, I saw plenty of non-alcohol-related initiatives that have successfully invigorated night life around the world.

Our view is that increased vibrancy shouldn't simply equal turning the beer taps on for longer.

Furthermore, when looking for inspiration overseas, we shouldn't forget that plenty of international cities – such as Los Angeles – have 2am closures for licensed venues. I'd hardly consider LA a retirement village.

It's also clear that the last-drinks measures have become a useful scapegoat for a range of challenges that have far more to do with a music and cultural scene in flux and the changing way in which Sydneysiders seek entertainment.

While clearly there are opportunities to improve the vibrancy of Sydney's nightlife, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated. Employment and revenue in the Sydney night-time economy have not decreased since 2011.

St Vincent's welcomes a discussion about the potential benefits of establishing a night mayor of Sydney; we equally welcome initiatives that further distribute opportunities for entertainment outside the CBD and Kings Cross, which is still the most concentrated night-time economy in Australia.

The longer you serve alcohol and more easily accessible it is, the more alcohol-related harms we will see

But in engaging in those debates, we won't be forgetting that alcohol remains one of our greatest health burdens. NSW alone sees 137 alcohol-related hospitalisations a day. And many of our state's worst venues for alcohol-related violence are in regional centres, such as Coffs Harbour, and in suburbs far away from the CBD, such as Penrith. What's to be done about them?

We also won't hesitate to remind members of the parliamentary committee, or those critics of the lockout laws, of the evidence: the longer you serve alcohol and more easily accessible it is, the more alcohol-related harms we will see, be they assaults, falls, or domestic violence.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call Family Drug Support on 1300 368 186 or Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm.

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