Gong operators oppose 'Newcastle solution'

Nightclub operator Ashley Doran says Wollongong's way of dealing with alcohol-fuelled violence is the way to go. Picture: NATALIE GRONO
Nightclub operator Ashley Doran says Wollongong's way of dealing with alcohol-fuelled violence is the way to go. Picture: NATALIE GRONO

Local nightlife operators have come out against calls to extend Newcastle-style licensing restrictions across the state, instead praising Wollongong's model of dealing with alcohol-related violence.

The NSW Labor Party this week re-released its Drink Smart Stay Safe policy, which includes an 18-month trial in the Sydney CBD of strict measures implemented in Newcastle such as a 1am lockout, 3am close and restrictions on shots and cocktails after 10pm.

Ashley Doran is a promoter for the new Industry nightclub on Victoria Street, and also operates Unity Nightclub in Newcastle.

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He said those measures were unpopular in Newcastle and not truly effective in curbing alcohol-related issues.

"From our experience in operating there, those rules don't work," he said. "If you look at statistics, violence in Wollongong has gone down more than Newcastle, but Wollongong hasn't introduced those laws."

Data released by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research in October showed a 38 per cent drop in alcohol-related assaults in Wollongong since 2008, while assaults in Newcastle only dropped 26 per cent in the same period. Statewide, assaults decreased 28 per cent between 2008 and 2012.

The Grand Hotel is the only Wollongong club under licensing restrictions such as a ban on glass after midnight, alcohol time-outs and the provision of free water and food after midnight. Most clubs "self-police," however, voluntarily following such restrictions and more, like ceasing serving shots after 1am.

John Green, director of policing and membership with the NSW branch of the Australian Hotels Association, criticised Labor's policy to expand the Newcastle approach, instead highlighting Wollongong as a model for dealing with alcohol violence.

"Over the last five years, we've seen greater reductions in other areas throughout NSW without the stringent conditions that were imposed in Newcastle," he said.

"We look at local solutions for local problems and that's how we've seen significant reductions in areas like Wollongong."

Dan Vardareff, a manager at the Illawarra Brewery, also had doubts about the effectiveness of the Newcastle policies in stemming alcohol-related violence.

"I don't think it would deter people from being on the street, which is where most drama occurs," he said.

Both Mr Vardareff and Mr Doran said Illawarra alcohol-related initiatives, such as this self-policing, local licensing police and the Wollongong Liquor Accord, were more efficient in stamping out night-time violence.

"It's evident from dropping rates of violence in Wollongong, and less and less local venues on that violent venues list, that self-policing is working," Mr Vardareff said.

"I think the way Wollongong venues manage themselves is fantastic. We've got the middle ground where venues are finding solutions to problems," Mr Doran said.

Urgent action on alcohol laws required

The NSW opposition wants Parliament to be recalled immediately to pass legislation on alcohol restrictions.

As 18-year-old Daniel Christie continues to fight for his life after he was felled by a punch at Kings Cross on New Year’s Eve, the opposition is calling for Premier Barry O’Farrell to take action on alcohol-fuelled violence within the next week.

The opposition has repeatedly called for the government to implement its alcohol policy, which includes imposing 1am lockouts and 3am last drinks.

‘‘Barry O’Farrell can recall Parliament and this could be brought into policy by next Friday,’’ opposition liquor regulation spokesman, Andrew McDonald, said yesterday.

He said Mr O’Farrell could have already passed legislation but was too close to the alcohol industry.

Dr McDonald said he would love to see legislation passed within the next week if Parliament could be recalled for an emergency sitting.

‘‘There will be more deaths from alcohol this summer than we will have on the roads,’’ he said.

The opposition’s demands for change have previously been echoed by emergency service workers and doctors, who last month urged the government to implement the plan.

They say the Newcastle trial cut alcohol-fuelled violence by 37per cent and emergency department admissions by 26per cent.

But Mr O’Farrell  said that the government had already imposed measures in Kings Cross, which had contributed to assaults in the precinct dropping by one-third.

‘‘That’s of no comfort to the Christie family but equally, the slogan being put forward by my opponents is of no comfort to someone who was assaulted at 9pm,’’ Mr O’Farrell said.

The Christie family broke their silence on Thursday, saying their lives have been turned upside-down since their son was attacked.

He remains in a critical condition in St Vincent’s Hospital.

‘‘We have all been affected so much by this tragedy, and our clear focus remains with our son and brother through this difficult time,’’ the family said.

They said they didn’t agree with the term ‘‘king-hit’’, adding that ‘‘coward punch’’ was more appropriate.

Police Minister Michael Gallacher agreed, saying the term ‘‘coward punch’’ should be used in legislation, and king-hitting people and other gutless acts should not be respected by language use.

‘‘They should not be hidden  in words like ‘assault occasioning actual bodily harm’ or  ‘grievous bodily harm’,’’ he said.   AAP


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