Eve Jeffrey and Chris Dobney
The head honchos of the Australian Hoteliers Association (AHA) flew in and flew out of the region yesterday in a bid to put the best sheen possible on the Byron Liquor Accord’s plan of action to deal with the Bay’s entrenched alcohol fuelled problems.
In a whirlwind trip, AHA NSW CEO Paul Nicolaou and director policing and membership John Green arrived in Byron Bay yesterday morning to meet with police, alcohol venue owners and the Byron Bay Liquor Accord chairperson Hannah Spalding.
Yet despite the positive move, not everyone in the industry is convinced the Accord’s planned solutions will work.
A local RSA marshal and trainer, Andrew ‘Woody’ Woodburn, spent years working at Byron venues including the Great Northern and the Buddha Bar and says that the main problem with the Accord’s proposals is that they are voluntary.
‘Voluntary is not an option with the conditions in Byron Bay,’ he told Echonetdaily. The Liquor Accord can’t guarantee other venues (not members of the Accord) will follow suit so the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR) needs to make it mandatory.
But Mr Nicolaou says that he believes Liquor Accord chairperson Hannah Spalding has all the licensed venues in Byron together.
‘Hannah told me that all the venues have agreed with all the strategies in the new terms. That’s because people realise that if they don’t get behind this, their business is gong to shut down. You will have the New South Wales government, the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing right onto them. All this [the Liquor Accord terms], the police are very happy with.
‘We listened to what [the police’s] concerns and issues were. We told the them, “We are here to support you, we’re here to support the Liquor Accord and we are here to support our members”. It is important that we ensure that Byron Bay remains a vibrant tourist destination and it’s important that we find solutions for local problems.’
Mr Nicolaou said that the issues arising from the consumption of alcohol meant that the problems had to be properly managed.
‘There a number of things in the proposal, like a voluntary lock out and no shots after 12; all those things are very positive and they are things that have been picked from all sorts of places. They are positive things we can do to manage it, because the only way you can stop all the problems is by banning alcohol altogether and that’s not going to happen. But that’s not going to solve the issue.
‘If the publicans can drive the agenda and say, “These are the things we are going to do”, that is going to be a plus.’
But Woody, who currently works as an RSA marshal at the Lennox Hotel, says there are two critical issues that haven’t been addressed.
‘My biggest concern is making the measures mandatory,’ he told Echonetdaily.
And they should have a measure that does not permit or promote rapid drinking.
‘We don’t tolerate people sculling drinks [at the Lennox Hotel]. We tell them we won’t allow it. OLGR needs to bring that in.
‘The Liquor Accord tried voluntary agreements before. Previously agreed they wouldn’t serve shots but there were at least three venues still selling shots so they all started doing it again.’
But Mr Nicolaou said that not every solution suits every town. ‘It is no good saying what happened in Newcastle or what worked in Manly is going to solve the problem in Byron Bay. There are many issues that they have to resolve.’
He added that there are issues other than the venues’ own measures that need to be put in place to control alcohol fuelled violence in the town.
‘Police have told me that they are really keen on CCTV with cameras for Jonson Street. They are keen on the lighting being improved for Jonson Street and they are also talking about doing something about moving the taxi rank into a position that is away from the pie shop, as it is a place where everyone congregates and causes problems.’
Mr Nicolaou said the AHA is following the Liquor Accord’s lead.
‘Hannah is driving this. I have come up really to endorse what she is doing and support her because it’s a difficult task being the chair of a liquor accord. If we don’t do this it will decimate the economy and the tourist trade and we need to make sure people are not scared off because of this violence, this street violence, because the problem is not in the hotels itself; it’s out on the street.’
He didn’t comment, however, on the fact that one venue has been fined in the last two weeks for allowing underage drinking during Schoolies week and five others were cautioned by OLGR over unacceptable drinking based promotions.
He did say that the problem is wider than just the venues themselves.
‘My understanding from Hannah is that 10 years ago there were only 15 licensed premises in Byron Bay. Now there are 70 and that includes not only small bars, nightclubs and pubs, but it also includes all those liquor stores that are selling grog.
‘There is more access to liquor and cheap grog as well, which is an issue. So what we have to look at is a global perspective, not just things we can pick off the shelf like a Newcastle model.’