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February 24, 2024

Calls for more police, cap on liquor licences, better transport

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Byron Youth Service representatives Di Mahoney and Deborah Pearse spoke to the hearing about the need for education and support services.

Story & photos Eve Jeffery

A parliamentary-committee hearing in Byron Bay yesterday looking into ways to reduce alcohol abuse by young people was told that more police, better lighting in the CBD, public transport and a cap on liquor licences would help stem the problem.

Up to a dozen people gave evidence to the five-member panel of the NSW parliament’s Standing Committee on Social Issues, chaired by MLC Niall Blair and including former Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham, who is now a member of the Upper House.

The committee hearing at the Byron Regional Sport and Cultural Complex is looking past the effectiveness of alcohol-harm minimisation strategies targeted at young people and measures to reduce alcohol-related violence, including in and around licensed venues.

It has already received more than 50 written submissions and heard evidence from more than 20 witnesses in earlier public hearings.

Tweed-Byron police commander, Superintendent Stuart Wilkins, told the hearing that Byron Bay has a reputation for violence and the problem of alcohol abuse has increased over the past 10 years.

Superintendent Wilkins suggested several ways to curb antisocial issues: improve lighting in the town’s CBD, better public transport out of there, and more police.

‘I honestly think wholeheartedly that the main part of Byron needs lighting up: it is dark. I would like to see a well-lit, well-organised transport hub out of that main area of the CBD,’ he said.

‘Byron Bay could certainly use more police. If I had more police, I would use them. If they [police administrators] said, “We’ll send you 12 more staff next weekend,” I’d be happy.’

Grog a big issue

Supt Wilkins said that when he first arrived at the Tweed Byron Local Area Command about three years ago, he could see straightaway there were issues with alcohol in Byron Bay.

‘From that time we have been working in collaboration with the community, with Council and the Liquor Accord to develop strategies to reduce the incidence of alcohol-related violence in Byron,’ he said.

He said that initially he met opposition, ‘resistance and ignorance’ in trying to develop a process to respond to alcohol-related crime.

‘But I believe we are all on the same page now. We understand that there is an issue and we are moving forward with steps to work together to ensure that we are trying to reduce that.’

Supt Wilkins said Byron Bay ‘is a violent place at times and clearly over the last ten years there have been issues with the consumption of alcohol here’.

‘It’s attributed to a whole range of factors. It’s not only licensed premises; it’s also about backpacking people coming in; it’s about the environment.

‘We have developed strategies with the Liquor Accord. They have been well represented; we had some reluctance at the beginning, some teething problems, but it appears down the end of the six months’ trial with self-regulation conditions, we’ve got 100 per cent compliance with those conditions.

‘It’s my personal view that I think there is more that can be done by everybody.’

Supt Wilkins said the issue of ‘pre-loading’ [people drinking excessively before attending licensed premises] was hard to police and creating many ‘sticking points’.

‘The Accord have agreed to refuse entry to anyone approaching premises with alcohol,’ he said, ‘but it’s difficult for us to take action, even in an alcohol-free zone; if it’s closed, we can’t do anything.’

Diverse Accord leaders

The town’s Liquor Accord chair Hannah Spalding said that as a result of a changing of the guard in the Accord leadership earlier this year, there was now ‘for the first time’ a ‘serious collaboration about venues who are part of the executive’. A new breed of executive was voted in.

‘We have a restaurant, a nightclub, hotels and a bottle shop represented, which is the first time we have ever actually had a cross-section of licenced venues in the Byron Accord,’ Ms Spalding said.

‘We have a large amount of tourists. Byron is unusual. No other place attracts such a diverse range of tourism in the numbers that Byron Bay does.

‘This is one of the things about Byron that we need to continue. We want to have young people here.

‘We want young people here as long as those young people are respectful. We want middle-aged people if they are respectful.

‘What we need to look at is not turning away a demographic, or an age group; we need to turn away a behaviour,’ she said.

Byron Youth Service (BYS) manager Di Mahoney said ‘there needs to be a cap on the number of licences and that the issue of pre-loading is a big factor with few effective strategies’.

Ms Mahoney said also that for her organisation to help educate youth there needed to be more financial assistance for services.

‘We have done a lot of education in schools with young people but we are not funded very well to do that, so it becomes something that we chase money for,’ she said.

‘It concerns me that the Liquor Accord and OLGR [licensing authority] have developed some education materials and want to go in to educate young people.

‘I think community workers and youth workers and educators are better placed to do that education in a more balanced way than liquor industry representatives.’

Longtime BYS youth worker Deborah Pearse says that she sees that ‘much of the time young people are scared in the town’.

Ms Pearse said the BYS Street Cruise service was a point of contact for youth.

‘Most of those young people are local and I know them. They are in my groups or I am working at the school with them or doing individual support and I can follow up.

‘I might not be able to do much with them on the night when they are vomiting in the gutter or we are taking them to the hospital or talking to the police about the best way to deal with the situation, but when I see them in the week, when they are sober and they are at school, then we can talk about the behaviour, the consequences.

‘We can put a safety plan together and encourage consequential thinking,’ she said


~ Photos Eve Jeffery

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  1. Why hasn’t the echo reported the sensible evidence -based submission from Dr Blake Eddington on behalf of Last Drinks @ 12?

    What is reported above is all about more costly reactive Band Aid measures preferred by the liquor industry. It masks the dreadful blame and cost shifting onto the public.

    Why are not we all collaboratively embracing proven harm prevention measures based on modest reductions in the dangerous oversupply, availability and promotion of grog and the ongoing lack of effective RSA enforcement?

    Who is going to pay for more lighting and police. I can’t see our Byron Liquor Accord prominent in the queue.

    Surely these vast sums of public money would be much better spent on better hospitals, reductions in waiting times and better resourced schools?

  2. Why is there no mention here of closing venues at midnight? This would make a huge difference to the problems of violence, binge drinking and number of people having to be hospitalised.
    The most obvious solution to the problem has been completely overlooked.
    We can do better, it is young people’s lives we are talking about.

  3. The last thing Byron needs is more police… the Byron bay cops are already out of control. What it needs, or at least what it did need, was a sane council who did not work to degrade the place to the level of the gold coast and create the mess Byron that is Byron bay today.

    Repeal the liquor laws and close the unwanted nightclubs, employ some people of integity to populate the council rather than what we have now and allow the local to have their home back… do that and the problem would be solved.

  4. Yes, why is nothing reported about the Last Drinks at 12 submission? I have written previously to the print edition and my letters don’t get published. I have asked why my letters don’t make it – no reply. Perhaps it’s because I spell out social and considerable economic costs, to each citizen, of the grog culture and am supportive of Last Drinks at 12? The licensing authority OLGR seems too enmeshed with business as usual with the grog industry to do any sensible thinking about the issues. Try making a compliant to the OLGR – as a friend of mine in Byron Bay has. What a useless bunch of paper pushers. The best their ‘mediations’ comes up with is a non legally binding ‘undertaking’ – which the venue promptly breaks, knowing there is no penalty. THEN the OLGR simply tells you to start the 6 to 12 month process all over again. Corrupt Culture. As for the liquor accord they seem to delight in distorting the figures, and other peoples research, to put themselves in the best possible light.
    John Allan

  5. We are facing a difficult time, Kali Yuga a great darkness. Fools lead the foolish, money and greed have become Gods, the dollar sign $ a distortion of the sacred caduceus, my words will be scoffed at by those who have vested interest. Alcohol is called spirits for a reason and unless one be initiated in the art these spirits possess. Tell me that does not happen??? Much of business in Bryon is based in tourism and the glamour of the good time, a delusion many seek in order to avoid themselves. When this is the motivation behind action what else could the end result be. This business culture will and does justify the manipulation of opinion to uphold its corruption, for what is in the beginning shall be in the end, the motive is seen in the end result, drunken, violent behaviour without any regard for its fellows. Greed makes the soul drunk, turns it into a monster who would devour all before it. Is this truth too close for comfort? What kind of distraction can be made to hide from it?
    It is said “but it brings employment” this is another form of colonialism, give the natives a few beads and steel their land and culture .Bryon has kept out many of the invading colonialists for now; KFC, Macs etc., etc., holiday rentals is the same by stealth. All of this activity is feeding on the culture Byron once had, this culture is now used to marginalize anyone who opposes the colonialist business lobby, hippies nimbies etc.. Indigenous people would understand this, they are called names I will not give energy to or perpetuate their hurt by saying. Alcoholism, who does it serve, and who serves it? For the two are one just at the extremes of each other. There is little of the generous soul that once danced in the waves of Byron, the hearts of many fell in love with it, a freedom that excited the imagination of those imprisoned in a world of chaos and commerce.
    To enter the temple take your shoes off, to enter Byron leave your greed and delusions of grandeur at its boarders, come and go in peace, love and respect and its soul shall once again rise like the alchemic Phoenix, otherwise your gain will be your loss. If a greedy man eats all of the mangoes no one else shall eat of this sweet fruit and for the greedy man? A belly ache and a big pile of guess what as a monument to his folly, a bit like Byron on Saturday night. The language of the birds speaks but who hears what it says.

    Paul Tisdell

  6. It’s really easy. Give people a choice. At the moment there is only one legal choice; Alcohol. People who want to party have the choice of only one legal “drug” to do that with. Alcohol. Yes folks, “Alcohol” is a drug like Cannabis, Heroin, MDMA. Let’s call it what it is. It’s a “DRUG”. Providing alcohol as the mandatory party drug is a “funnel” process. Everyone is put down that funnel. The results are well documented. Let’s get real and provide other alternatives legally. People will always want to party. GovCo sets the platform as to whether the outcome is going to be positive or negative on the basis of what “stimulants” are available. The rest of the world is moving on. Let’s move on with it. The Cops want to move on too. Let’s free them up to do their job of “keeping the peace”.

  7. Your report of the parliamentary committee hearing on Tuesday in Byron Bay on ways to address youth and abuse of alcohol failed to mention that Superintendent Stuart Wilkins said emphatically that alcohol-related violence had increased in Byron Bay in August and September this year.

    It also failed to mention that two local doctors representing Last Drinks at 12 stated that the no-cost way to reduce alcohol-related violence is for the cessation of the service of alcohol in licensed premises in Byron Bay after midnight, the time when the overwhelming number of harmful incidents occur.

    The emergency-specialist doctors said that for every hour reduction of the operation of licensed premises after midnight, there is a 17 per cent reduction in alcohol-related violence.

    They also said that other costly measures such as improved lighting only reduced violence by two per cent.

    It’s a well-known fact that most violence occurs outside the nightclubs, which are well lit.

  8. Last Drinks at 12 certainly has their knickers in a knot for not getting their one-sided, unreasonable & potentially devastating proposals mentioned!

    Perhaps there is a reason …because they do not want to, nor are they willing to engage in meaningful discussions with any other community stakeholders. Rather they blindly continue to bang their one-tune drum “Grog Monster. Grog Monster. Grog Monster” and fail to recognize the ramifications of their prohibitionists ideas.

    If visiting young people aren’t able to do what many of them want to do – have a fun night out with a few drinks – it is fantastically naïve to think that they will keep coming to Byron in the same numbers.

    I don’t know who’s assault statistics to belief, but it seems as though it’s only a handful of idiots that are ruining it for everyone else. Why don’t the police & courts throw the book at the pork-chops that want to cause trouble and leave the other 99% alone to enjoy themselves like they can anywhere else in the world?

    Why aren’t more businesses in town (surf schools, hostels, cafes) crying bloody murder when a group is trying to discourage a big chunk of their target market from coming to town? Fear of being seen as Grog Monster sympathizer?

    Byron is a very special place…but not so special that young people won’t go somewhere else to have a few drinks!


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