Staff reporters, video Sharon Shostak
Organisers of the Last Drinks at 12 public meeting in Byron Bay on Saturday night have slammed Byron shire mayor Simon Richardson for failing to support their proposal to stop the supply of alcohol after midnight.
In a scathing and detailed attack, Chris Hanley and Mick O’Regan say Cr Richardson is ignoring crime statistics that show Byron Bay is one of the most dangerous places in the state with its record for alcohol-related violence.
They say he has also overlooked the fact that the risk of sexual assault and rape in the town is double the state average and that he is simply wrong in maintaining that the measures to address alcohol-related harms are untried.
Cr Richardson told the meeting he thought the midnight drinks ban was ‘too much’.
He said Council has just applied for $500,000 for extra lighting, shuttle buses and education programs and had also received $50,000 for extra taxi ranks, and that those measures, along with a 1am lockout, should be trialled first before a midnight ban on the sale of alcohol.
But in a joint press release, Mr Hanley and Mr O’Regan say Cr Richardson, who addressed the meeting on the issues at the Byron Community Centre, which drew a full house, was not giving the public the full story.
‘While the mayor is quite prepared to use emotive, inaccurate language such as “nanny state”, “prohibition lite” and “12 o’clock swill”, he isn’t prepared to address statistics that reveal what’s actually happening in Byron,’ they said.
‘In fact, the mayor isn’t giving us the true story.
‘He doesn’t mention the cost of preventable alcohol-related harms to the Byron community. This is despite a recent NSW Auditor-General’s report that revealed such harms cost NSW $3.7 billion annually.
‘Simon Richardson doesn’t address the drain on police resources, medical staff and emergency services which have to be directed to the aftermath of alcohol abuse.
‘The mayor doesn’t appear to be interested in addressing the most recent NSW crime statistics that show we are living in the sixth most dangerous locality in the state for non-domestic alcohol-related violence.
‘He doesn’t mention that the risk of experiencing alcohol-related violence in Byron Bay is three times higher than the state average.
He manages to overlook that the risk of sexual assault in our community is double the State average.
‘The mayor maintains that the measures to address alcohol-related harms are “untried”.
‘This is simply incorrect. A modest reduction in late trading in Newcastle has resulted in: a 37 per cent reduction in alcohol-related assault, a 50 per cent reduction in night time street crime and a 26 per cent reduction in admissions to hospital emergency departments.
‘In fact, research shows that the rate of alcohol-related violence increases every hour after midnight.
‘The mayor asserts he doesn’t want to punish the “vast majority” of drinkers.
‘Are the “vast majority” of people who responsibly enjoy a drink going to be affected by changes to alcohol availability in the early hours of the morning? No.
‘So is it the “vast majority” of licensed premises which would be affected? No.
We are talking about a handful of late-trading premises, in fact only 6 per cent of the Byron Shire’s licensed premises trade after midnight.
‘The overwhelming majority of non-domestic alcohol-related incidents can be directly traced back to the operation of these premises and the conduct of their intoxicated patrons after they leave.
‘What about the “vast majority” of local residents and young families who are exposed to dangerous, anti-social behaviour by a comparatively small group of people who are supplied too much alcohol?
‘Or is that a “majority” whose rights are unimportant to the mayor?
‘The mayor says that he “feels” for the people left to “pick up the pieces”.
‘Cr Richardson is in a position to do a lot more than “feel” for the problem.
‘He’s the elected leader of a community where a serious problem is occurring.
‘He could constructively use his civic leadership to help solve that problem, rather than ineffectually “feeling” for those who are trying to deal with it.
‘The “pieces” aren’t just litter and vomit in the street. The “pieces” are our young people who regularly suffer serious and sometimes life-changing injuries.
‘The “pieces” are people in hospital emergency departments with broken jaws, smashed teeth, lacerations and internal injuries.
‘And it’s also young women who are sexually assaulted and young people needlessly maimed in alcohol-related car accidents.
‘The people “picking up the pieces” aren’t out there with brooms and mops.
‘They are our local police, emergency medical staff and ambulance officers who regularly have to confront violent drunks, injured young people and damaged property.
‘The mayor wants a “more respectful” response but doesn’t mention that the problem of alcohol-related violence was the number one issue to emerge from a series of important community meetings held at the beginning of 2013.
In fact, Cr Richardson doesn’t mention “public safety” or the “rights of local residents” at all.
‘Don’t residents and families deserve at least the same level of respect and support from the Byron shire mayor?
The repeated calls from community members who spoke up about the impact of anti-social behaviour don’t rate a mention from the mayor.
‘Seems it’s the rights of ragers over residents as far as Cr Richardson is concerned.
‘Instead, our mayor suggests Byron’s reputation for “inclusivity, acceptance and community gathering” has been exploited by our home becoming a “party town”.
‘However, rather than supporting a package of modest, effective evidence-based measures such as reducing the dangerous over-supply and availability of alcohol and insisting on the enforcement of Responsible Service of Alcohol provisions, the mayor opts to “feel” for the tragedy and denigrate the broad range of local community members trying to achieve a safer town by unsupported evidence of a “12 o’clock swill” and a “nanny state” mentality.
‘Is this the “smarter, more respectful and more modern response” he claims to want?
‘Smarter than what? Than employing practical measures that directly address the fact that “the one thread that goes through all of this violence and anti-social behaviour is alcohol” (according to police Inspector Brendan Cohen, crime manager for the Tweed-Byron Local Area Command).
‘More respectful than what? Than ignoring the key concern of a series of community meetings and the views of a growing number of residents and businesses?
‘More modern than what? Than acknowledging the detailed statistical information from police and medical authorities that unequivocally indicates the damage caused by alcohol abuse late at night?
‘As a community don’t we deserve better than this?’ they concluded.
Cr Richardson’s response was sought by Echonetdaily but was not available at the time of going to press.