Plans for a Byron Bay liquor accord precinct will be explored after Byron Shire Council voted unanimously in favour at yesterday’s ordinary meeting.
Designed to work alongside liquor accords, precincts are generally found in larger city areas and are established by the Office of Liquor and Gaming, (OLGR), and would have mandatory conditions. According to www.olgr.nsw.gov.au, ‘Membership of, and active participation in, these [precinct liquor] accords is mandatory for late-night licensed venues within the PLA boundary.’
The motion’s author, Cr Paul Spooner, says he changed his mind on the issue after he attended the recent Last Drinks at 12 meeting, where health professionals and police spoke firsthand of the issues they face with alcohol-fuelled violence. The meeting drew a full house and also highlighted the high rates of incidents in Byron Bay compared to other areas. However the town’s liquor accord chairperson Hannah Spalding says that their self-imposed measures are now taking effect and wouldn’t necessarily stop after the review later in the year.
Cr Spooner told The Echo, ‘Council will be asking the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) to review extended trading liquor licences currently operating in Byron Bay. This means any after-midnight liquor licences.
‘This is to ascertain what is in the community’s best interests, given the overwhelming number of harmful incidents occur at that time of night. Council has also recommended that there be a freeze on the granting of any new extended trading liquor licences while the review is undertaken.’
In morning public access at Thursday’s meeting, Last Drinks at 12 representatives asked Council to support the group’s aims.
Dr Blake Eddington told the gallery he works at Tweed Hospital but is on call 24/7 for the Byron Hospital. ‘I am here as an advocate for young people’s lives,’ he said.
‘If you knew of a way of reducing the harm and could save lives, would you do it? Would you do something to help?
‘It takes last drinks at 12, not voluntary restrictions and CCTV. How many assaults – physical and potentially sexual – could be prevented by implementing the plan of last service of alcohol at midnight (not venue closure at midnight).’
Dr Eddington later told The Echo, ‘The overwhelming evidence is that for every hour earlier a venue ceases the serving of alcohol, physical assaults decrease by approximately 17 per cent. A precinct liquor accord (PLA) changes the Byron Bay Liquor Accord (BBLA) conditions from voluntary to mandatory and enforceable; however, I am unaware of any evidence demonstrating a significant decrease in alcohol-related violence after a PLA has been established in isolation. Thus my concern is that if we solely focus on a PLA without bringing back the service of alcohol time the alcohol-related violence will continue unabated.’
Fellow representative and realtor Chris Hanley added at the meeting that after eight months research, the only evidence-based findings to reduce the statistics was reducing alcohol supply. ‘We can’t find evidence that voluntary restrictions work; however, the accord should be congratulated for their action on this and we support them. The only thing that seems to work is closing earlier… whether in Norway or Newcastle. Why don’t we just try it?’
If adopted, the restrictions would directly impact on around a half a dozen licensed venues that are currently open until 3am. Cr Spooner asked about economic impacts with closing earlier to which Mr Hanley replied that there may be a dip but evidence suggests that venues and a town’s economy recover.
When introducing the motion, Cr Spooner said,’This about stopping the supply of booze, not the opening hours. This is not anti-alcohol or establishments, this is pro Byron Bay and acknowledges we have a problem.’
During debate later in the day, Cr Sol Ibrahim acknowledged problems, but, ‘objects to the way it’s being addressed.’
‘When there is risks, we weigh them up. I don’t see the Last Drinks at 12 people representing the people affected. They are not out at theses times. I go out late at night and have not been at risk. It’s a simplistic view. I want to drink after midnight, and so do my friends. We need more police presence and compliance by licensees.’
But Cr Basil Cameron said it’s been an issue for over 20 years and remains unresolved. ‘A substantial proportion of the public had valid concerns for the lack of a real effort to make change. This is not a small part of the community that want these changes. We have nothing to lose.’
Cr Chris Cubis asked if there had been enough consultation with youth, business and the liquor accord. ‘What will the kids do? Where will they go – to the beach, the park? We know that there are some that want to shut down parts of the tourism industry… but we haven’t done our bit. This will affect the town’s economy.’
Mayor Richardson reminded councillors the motion was not an endorsement of the Last Drinks at 12 group. ‘Instead, it shows support for a precinct and recommends a freeze on extending hours.’
The mayor also asked planning staff what effects the NSW government’s new development overhaul plans would have. Planning director Ray Darney replied that the general direction of the paper could mean that ‘small bars may not need the same levels of approvals’, and that it could result in ‘less community engagement’.