I was once again afforded the honour of being invited by the large and courageous Last Drinks at 12 Byron community group to participate in their meeting of supporters on 4 December 2013. I understand it was never intended to be a broader public affair.
Nevertheless, far from being ‘divisive’ as portrayed by some in the media, I took from the meeting of around 80 people, a high level of encouragement, enthusiasm and confidence that an empowered independent Byron community can lead the way to prevent alcohol-related harm destroying the fabric, soul and reputation of this iconic place.
There was unanimous agreement for the following approach and observations:
1. Byron Bay has a problem with the dangerous oversupply and availability of alcohol.
2. ‘Prevention’ of alcohol-fuelled violence and related harms is much better than the current adoption of very costly band-aid measures that react to the problem or try and pick up all the broken pieces.
3. Independent scientific evidence should guide the selection, adoption and trial of measures proven to prevent alcohol-related harms at their source.
4. The public/community should not be forced to pay the disproportionate high costs of the current reactive measures such as more police, CCTV and lighting. This should be paid by the liquor industry who financially benefit from the volumes and strength of drinks supplied.
5. The local community should have a key say in all liquor-related decisions that impact on the local community. The determination of critical licensing conditions should not be the exclusive domain of just seven late-trading licensed premises who retain a strong vested interest (and support of the NSW government) in blocking any sensible immediately enforceable measures to reduce the dangerous oversupply and promotion of alcohol in Byron Bay.
Far from being divisive, the community group once again unequivocally stated its preparedness to consider a ‘package’ of proven cost saving measures shown to prevent alcohol-fuelled violence by reducing dangerous levels of pre-loading and intoxication.
Importantly, it signalled that last drinks (not closing) at ’12’ could be reviewed within the context of a comprehensive enforceable ‘package’ of prevention measures across all licensed premises including bottle shops, that reduced the dangerous oversupply and availability of alcohol and ensured effective RSA practices.
In stark contrast to the preparedness and offer by the group to ‘negotiate’ without compromising the above five principles, the meeting was informed of the Byron Bay Liquor Accord’s (BBLA) absolute unwillingness to reciprocate.
The meeting noted BBLA’s refusal to accept even OLGR’s weak (my words) non-enforceable latest proposal to reduce the summertime escalation in violence, including a very token 15-minute reduction in last drinks.
Some concern was expressed at the group’s alleged ‘provocative’ title of ‘last drinks at 12’ as this was seen to ‘split’ the community, and the group’s criticism of the mayor.
I respectfully don’t share these views.
Already having the third highest rate of non-domestic alcohol-related violence in NSW, 19 times higher (as a town) than the state average, is divisive.
The NSW government’s existing refusal to allow the Byron local community at least an equal say in licensing conditions that so adversely impact upon their safety, reputation and business viability, is divisive.
Having our local police, nurses, doctors and ambulance officers as punching bags for drunks, is divisive.
I therefore invite those who detract from the genuine commendable efforts of this community group that has attained through hard voluntary work and an irrepressible argument backed by evidence, the support of over 300 local individuals and organisations including most recently the Police Association of NSW, the AMA (NSW) and the local Greens, to reconsider their intransigent opposition by firstly publicly supporting and embracing the above five broad principles.
Secondly, I would encourage a fence-mending collaborative approach by local political leaders to exemplify the same internationally recognised tenacious community power that prevented Club Med, Maccas and Dan Murphy’s in the interests of public health and lifestyles.
Finally and most importantly, I encourage the urgent adoption of proven harm prevention and cost saving measures to avert the predictable and imminent surge in alcohol-related harms in Byron Bay and associated extraordinary outlays of scarce and costly police and council public resources better invested elsewhere.
Tony Brown, Byron Bay