Comment by Tony Brown*
The commendable efforts of the ever-growing and increasingly popular Last Drinks at 12 campaign initiated in Byron Bay are reflective of Gandhi, who was equally committed to peace and a fundamental right of self-determination
‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.’
Last Drinks at 12 wrote to Ballina MP Don Page and liquor and gaming minister George Souris on 3 October seeking to be genuinely included in the liquor-industry dominated process to review the expiry of the six-month trial of the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) voluntary liquor-licence conditions in Byron and consideration of any new effective conditions.
Mr Page promptly responded with the news that without any community consultation, the trial of voluntary conditions had been extended and new (undisclosed) conditions would be introduced.
This is an extremely disappointing outcome particularly when you consider two key objectives of the NSW Liquor Act relate to ensuring all outcomes reflect the ‘aspirations’ and ‘expectations’ of the community and harm minimisation.
These sentiments are captured in Last Drinks at 12’s excellent community charter on their website.
Mr Page attended 12’s packed community forum on 24 August and would have obtained a sound and unbiased appreciation of the true substance and depth of the genuine and, importantly, well-informed groundswell of local community opposition to the intolerable and indefensible levels of alcohol-related harms in Byron and the immediately available, proven cost-saving measures to prevent the same.
The Byron community, Byron Shire Council, nurses, doctors and police have good cause to question why the NSW government and OLGR continue to allow just five or six late-trading premises and the powerful AHA to be calling all the shots to the total exclusion and ignorance of any alternative and legitimate community views.
Byron mayor Simon Richardson has attempted to ‘ridicule’ 12 supporters as ‘wowsers’. This is particularly offensive to those whose occupations are actually saving young people’s lives inflicted with primarily preventable critical injuries arising from the dangerous over-supply of alcohol and clearly failed RSA.
Smoke and mirrors
Last Drinks at 12 supporters should not be distracted or deterred by the array of crude to sophisticated smoke and mirrors deployed by the liquor industry and its political acolytes now they have started to ‘fight’ you.
Byron United continues to falsely assert the Byron voluntary OLGR conditions are ‘stringent’ and completely misrepresents the internationally successful 2008 Newcastle mandatory conditions (imposing a modest reduction in late closing times) as only applying on weekends.
The Newcastle community and business generally is now celebrating the success of the modest reduction in hours with more licensed premises than five years ago, more money being spent in a more diverse range of premises and much safer streets and businesses attracting a more sustainable broader customer base.
Across NSW, in part reaction to the success of groups like 12, we are witnessing an apparent orchestrated attempt by the AHA, Clubs NSW and the NSW government of mutual self-congratulatory praise of the so-called ‘toughness’ of the government’s costly alcohol measures and the ‘cooperation’ of the industry.
This also includes ganging up on small ‘rogue’ operators like La La Land who aren’t AHA members and the very dubious use of notoriously volatile short-term crime statistics subjected to wild climatic variations to vindicate the effectiveness of their ultimately unsustainable costly band-aid ‘solutions’ like more police, transport, CCTV, lighting and voluntary curfews.
Unsurprisingly, these measures do not adversely impact on the industry’s free flow (read profits) and promotion of grog to binge drinkers or the sale of bottleshop alcohol for preloading, cheaper than some bottled water.
Assaults have increased
The latest assertion by the Byron Bay Liquor Accord that assaults have fallen by 25 per cent ignores the bad weather at the beginning of the period and the more recent concerning increase in assaults raised by police.
The Liquor Accord is not fair dinkum. When the monthly alcohol-related assault statistics fall, they take all the credit, their voluntary measures are working.
But when the monthly statistics increase, it is all because of the ‘weather’ or an ‘influx of more tourists’.
These statistics do not capture the majority of ‘unintended’ alcohol-related injuries/accidents not directly related to crime or that only around 25 per cent of assaults are reported to police.
What OLGR, AHA, the Liquor Accord, Byron United and even the police refuse to answer is why the NSW public and Byron ratepayers, and not the liquor industry, have to pay (without any input) the very high price of these above reactive measures and harm recently estimated in NSW to be around $4 billion a year in total social costs?
Unlike 12, none in the powerful liquor lobby has been able to produce any independent peer review research establishing the cost effectiveness of their preferred controls including lockouts/curfews alone and CCTV in preventing alcohol-related harms.
Byron Council has organised a round-table meeting of all local stakeholders for this Monday, 14 October.
More ‘tinkering at the edges’ with additional ‘voluntary’ unenforceable conditions – such as ceasing the service half an hour early, a 1am curfew, and no alcohol takeaways after 10pm – makes good sound grabs, but is no real substitute for immediately enforceable precinct-wide reductions in the late over-supply of grog.
This is proven to disproportionately reduce alcohol-related harms while being better for more responsible businesses not reliant upon dangerously ‘loading up’ volatile binge drinkers.
The ‘fight’ is not over, but for the sake of Byron, our youth and international tourism reputation, as a safe and inviting destination, 12 will ‘win’ with its extensive community interest, collaboration and common sense.
*Tony Brown voluntarily led and represented Newcastle residents and small businesses in the instigation of stricter licensing conditions for that city.