Byron Bay’s late-night club scene has come under fire in a widely read international magazine, while its notorious alcohol-fuelled violence has been noted in a debate over the issue in the Northern Territory parliament.
Both negative views of Byron Bay have been seized on by the Last Drinks at 12 campaign, which says they are telling points against Byron United, the local Liquor Accord and mayor Simon Richardson, who oppose stricter restrictions to curb the violence.
In this month’s Qantas in-flight magazine, a feature article promoting ‘one perfect day’ in Byron Bay ends with a swipe at the town’s late-night club scene, saying it is ‘best avoided unless you’re recently out of high school’.
And independent MP Gerry Wood in the NT parliament last week raised the issue of Byron’s alcohol-fuelled violence in a debate over ways to address Darwin’s increasing binge-drinking-related violence.
Mr Wood told NT MPs that Byron Bay was ‘trying to look at last drinks at 12pm because of the problems they have’ and was one town in NSW looking at Newcastle’s successful strategy, which has reduced alcohol-fuelled violence.
Byron shire Last Drinks at 12 supporter Tony Brown told Echonetdaily that Byron’s reputation with drinking and violence on Friday and Saturday nights after 10pm was ‘corroding’ its positive daytime image as painted in the Qantas magazine to tourists everywhere.
He said widespread negative mentions of the town’s problems were trashing its tourist destination appeal.
‘What has taken decades to develop, Byron’s international tourism reputation for peace, harmony and tranquillity painted on a beautiful natural aesthetic canvas, will be washed down the gutter,’ he said.
‘This is the reality of Byron’s so-called current “vibrant” night economy dominated by just five or six late-trading pubs and clubs that enjoy the tacit kid-glove support and protection of the NSW government,’ he said.
Mr Brown, a longtime campaigner for safer communities, will take part in a forum in the NSW parliament in Sydney on Thursday to speak about the Byron and Newcastle experience with the problem.
In the lead-up to the forum, the NSW Alcohol Policy Alliance, which includes the NSW Police Association, Australian Medical Association and hospital and surgeon groups, this week called for a community defender’s office so residents, schools and hospitals can fight a flood of unwanted bars and bottle shops.
It would be funded through the introduction of annual licence fees for pubs and clubs.
Mr Brown said a few powerful lobby groups such as the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) like to blame the alcohol-fuelled violence problem on consumers, when ‘really it’s the money-makers behind it causing it and consumers are just the pawns’.
‘The problem is not just the consequences of drinking but the business models, and that’s where it has to be tackled,’ he said.
‘In Newcastle, five years after a big reduction in harm due to late-night alcohol restrictions, the night-time economy is thriving with more jobs, and it’s a safer town.
‘It the mono-economy culture (nightclubs, bars) that’s promoting binge drinking.
‘This fast-drinking, fast-bucks mono-economy is a false economy… and cannot deliver the Byron community sustainable jobs and a sustainable financial future.
‘The majority in the community and the health sector are seeking proven, evidence-based solutions to prevent alcohol-related violence and associated harms.
‘Cringing and curtailing the binge supply, service and consumption of cheap, high-strength alcohol into the early hours of the morning to younger locals and travellers will dramatically reduce dangerous extreme levels of intoxication and consequential violence and harms.
‘Conversely, a safer, sensible and more sober night economy in Byron will allow more diverse businesses such as licensed restaurants, small bars and live entertainment for all ages, to flourish well into the night and replace the unsustainable binge-barn business models that crowds out such opportunities except for strip clubs.
‘We don’t need more police, riot squads, CCTV, more lighting… what we require is effective community-centric leadership to lead us down the right path.’
Mr Brown said he would focus on giving hope and encouragement to other communities fighting with the same problem at tomorrow’s forum, titled ‘Breaking down the barriers: community involvement in liquor licensing decisions in NSW’.
Interest in Newcastle
He said Armidale, Tamworth and other towns around NSW were looking at the Newcastle model, which he helped get established.
A South Australian parliamentary inquiry was also looking at it as are also senior Queensland government officials.
He said, ‘all roads lead to Newcastle,’ in terms of what should be done.
Mr Brown said, ‘all communities have the inalienable right to have a safe community free of preventable alcohol-related harm’ and the Last Drinks at 12 campaign helped to achieve that.
‘It’s a fundamental right of self determination and local communities should not be dictated to by a small cabal of powerful, licensed premises, as the community itself was directly impacted on by the dangers of alcohol serving practices.’
He said that in Byron, the state government through its liquor licensing authority was continuing to support a small number of licensed operators and ‘ignoring the community, its police, doctors, nurses, paramedics and other small businesses’.
The recent six-month expansion of the local voluntary liquor accord trial, he said, was such an example of this support and he rejected the accord’s claim that their restrictions were ‘tougher than Newcastle’s’.
Mr Brown said people were now saying the police riot squad would attend the town over the New Years Eve break for fear of alcohol-fuelled violence getting out of hand.
His comments came eight men another violent incident flared in Newcastle at the weekend with eight men charged over assaults at a hotel which left several police officers injured.
About 12.30am on Sunday, police attended a hotel on Hunter Street to help remove several intoxicated men but were set on by other intoxicated young men outside the hotel. The publican was forced to close down the hotel.
Byron Bay’s Visitor Industry Association (VIA) says the negative publicity again highlighted the need for the government to get tougher.
But VIA president Cameron Arnold told Echonetdaily the problem was a ‘whole town issue’ and had to be addressed as such. Addressing the problem involved talking to the venues, the business and wider community.
He said the process had already started with a workshop held last week involving all stakeholders on ways to deal with the issue .