A proposal to enforce earlier last drinks and lockouts on all licensed venues could be detrimental to the Illawarra’s thriving nightlife.
Three venue operators have spoken out against the proposal by the NSW and ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA), arguing the area does not have a problem with alcohol fueled violence.
Night Parrot wine bar co-owner Alex “Choppy” Breslin said Wollongong especially was “leading the way” in creating a safe city with the statistics to prove it.
“Wollongong has had more success in reducing alcohol related assault without lockout laws than both Sydney and Newcastle have had with the restrictions,” Mr Breslin said.
“Newcastle, a very comparable city to Wollongong in terms of size and demographic still has more than double the rate of alcohol related assault according to BOSCAR [the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research].”
He said local council and liquor licensing authorities were encouraging and helpful to assist boutique venues like themselves.
“The answer lies in diversifying the evening economy by continuing to encourage sophisticated uses and unique events … into our city,” Mr Breslin said.
“The only thing lockout laws would do is portray a negative image about our city and its nightlife which would be bad for all of us.”
Current liquor licencing for venues classified as “small bars” allows them to trade until 2am.
It is one of the easier licenses to obtain as the NSW Department of Industry states “small bars are generally well-managed, with lower rates of violence, and fewer compliance issues than other late trading venues”.
The only thing lockout laws would do is portray a negative image about our city.Alex Breslin
Destination Wollongong general manager Mark Sleigh believed blanket lockout laws would not only reverse gains seen in the night-time economy but also damage tourism.
“Wollongong is now positioned as a vibrant and safe place to visit at night for residents and visitors alike and there appears few reasons to extend the lockout experiment to an area which is not experiencing anti-social behaviour,” Mr Sleigh said.
“The move towards these smaller niche bars away from large clubs and pubs has brought greater sophistication to the CBD and has led to better late night behaviours.”
“The Wollongong Approach” is currently being adopted by Newcastle City Council to assist in transforming their city’s night life.
Meantime, a key focus point of Wollongong City Council’s new draft Creative Plan is the city “after dark”, with plans to investigate models for allowing extended trade for licensed premises.
Manager of the UniBar at the University of Wollongong, Nathan Stratton, said the proposed lockout laws were “dated” while there should be more incentive for people to “drink, eat and be merry at licensed venue”.
“I don’t believe the current licensed premises in the Illawarra region should shoulder all the blame for the alcohol related problems that have happened in the past,” Mr Stratton said.
“There are plenty of other social problems and late night transport issues that the government could look at before finding a band-aid solution in an election year.”
There are plenty of other social problems and late night transport issues that the government could look at before finding a band-aid solution in an election year.Nathan Stratton
General Manager of the Novotel, Steve Savic, which owns the popular Pepe’s On The Beach and the Lobby Bar, said he didn’t think the proposed laws would affect them greatly.
Mr Savic said whilst they had a late night trading license, their in house practices already had a one-way door policy after a certain time.
“I’m not too sure it will have any great impact on Wollongong as the nightlife has diversified over the past few years,” he said. “I think it’s more a venue demographic issue rather than an alcohol lead issue.”
Mr Savic said such laws would never eradicate alcohol-fueled violence completely, while the onus should be up to the venue of the type of clientele they “allow” inside.
“It’s also important to understand secondary drivers such as domestic disputes and other life pressures which can trigger violence, its not always centered around the intake of alcohol,” he said.
Tougher laws ‘would help curb violence’: police
A Wollongong police officer says new measures must be considered to ensure people who go out for a good time don’t “end up in the back of an ambulance”, despite an improvement in the level of alcohol-fuelled violence across the city.
Tougher liquor legislation – such as earlier last drinks and lockouts – would be introduced, if a push by an advocacy group is adopted by the next NSW government.
Ahead of the March election, the NSW/ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) has proposed Sydney-style lockout laws be rolled out to all late-night precincts statewide – including Wollongong, Bondi and Byron Bay – and to other locations where data shows high levels of non-domestic assaults.
The move is backed by the Police Association of NSW (PANSW) and the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Health Initiatives, as well as a number of other NAAPA member organisations.
Wollongong detective, and PANSW executive member, Jason Hogan said the tougher laws were “important for the community’s safety”.
“It reduces the number of assaults, which reduces the flow of victims into the emergency services, it reduces the workload of the ambulance and the police, and people can go out and have a good time and not have to worry about being assaulted,” Mr Hogan said.
NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data shows the number of night-time, alcohol-related assaults in the Wollongong local government area (LGA) has dropped 6.8 per cent a year in the past five years.
In the year to September, there were 448 incidents in the Wollongong LGA – a rate of 212.1 per 100,000 population. The number was in line with NSW (206.9), while Sydney’s rate was 807.7.
Mr Hogan admitted the current level of alcohol-related harm was much better than it was in the early 2000s, when the city had “quite a big alcohol-fuelled violence problem”.
The downturn was largely thanks to “the good work of the police and the licensees”, he said, but stressed “we need to always be looking at new initiatives”.
“It’s obviously worked in Newcastle; rates of alcohol-fuelled violence and emergency department admissions have dramatically reduced,” he said.
It just makes sure that people … can go out and have a good time, and not end up in the back of an ambulance.Wollongong police officer and PANSW executive member, Jason Hogan.
“It’s worked in Sydney, and it just makes sure that people … can go out and have a good time, and not end up in the back of an ambulance or, even worse, police having to deliver death messages.”
The PANSW has previously pushed for the changes.
In 2011, drinkers were spared a 1.30am lockout after a Wollongong police bid to have a blanket time imposed on all CBD nightspots was rejected by the state government.
No need for change: IBC
Lockout laws would stifle Wollongong’s thriving small-bar, late-night scene and threaten the city’s “unique point of difference”, the head of the region’s business advocacy group has warned.
Illawarra Business Chamber executive director Adam Zarth has spoken against a proposal to introduce Sydney-style lockout laws in Wollongong, saying current initiatives to curb alcohol-fuelled violence were working.
The NSW and ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) has called for the controversial measures already in effect in the Sydney CBD, Kings Cross and Newcastle – such as earlier last drinks and lockouts – to be extended to other areas in NSW where figures show higher levels of violence.
While the tougher liquor laws vary in different areas, the main conditions are last drinks between 2.30am and 3.30am, and a 1-2am “one-way door” (lockout) policy.
Mr Zarth said the “existing regime” in Wollongong was working well, with at least 80 small bars popping up in the CBD since 2012. “It’s a major point of attraction for Wollongong as a tourist destination, so it’s a unique point of difference, and ultimately contributes to our economy and employs a lot of people in the area,” he said.
Mr Zarth described the NAAPA proposal as “well-meaning”.
“We support public safety, but then you’ve got to look at the statistics. We did, and we found that Wollongong is completely in line with alcohol-related incidents across the rest of the state,” he said.
Figtree’s Anissa Curran used to go out in Kings Cross, but said the lockout laws meant it was “just not worth it” anymore.
“When it did first get rolled out in Kings Cross, we just noticed that then there’s all these people out on the streets at 1.30am. I think it just gives potential for more violence, or whatever they’re trying to prevent, happening,” the 29-year-old said.