Doctors, nurses, paramedics and police officers have formed a potent alliance to push for regulatory changes to liquor laws to reduce harm and improve public safety. This is their argument.
Every week, emergency service workers see innocent lives shattered at the hands of alcohol-fuelled violence.
Every week another family somewhere in the country learns first-hand that it takes just one quick punch from someone who has had too much to drink for the ripple of devastation to take hold.
Across Australia each year, a staggering 700,000 people are involved in alcohol-related assaults. In dollars, that costs the community an estimated $187 million a year. The human cost is incalculable.
You would be hard pressed to find a nurse, doctor or any other emergency service worker, who hasn’t stood by the parents of a young man who has been disfigured by an alcohol-related incident and comforted them as they try to come to terms with the fact that life as they once knew it is no longer.
You’d also be hard pressed to find an emergency service worker who hasn’t fallen victim to alcohol-fuelled rage themselves.
It’s a constant occupational hazard and the primary reason why four major organisations representing emergency service workers in NSW joined together to form the Last Drinks campaign – a campaign aimed at tackling the issue of alcohol-fuelled violence head-on by challenging the 24/7 drinking culture that has permeated our society.
What makes the difficult moments of dealing with alcohol-fuelled violence even harder for emergency service workers is the fact that we know there is an answer – we know that there are ways to decrease the number of innocent victims ending up in our emergency departments after a night out.
There is overwhelming evidence that points towards the Newcastle model being the model for success for reducing the rates of alcohol-fuelled violence.
After the local Newcastle community got fed up with the outrageously high numbers of alcohol-fuelled incidents occurring in the town, a suite of measures were introduced to help tackle the problem. The modest measures introduced in 2008, and still in place now, included reduced trading hours, restrictions on high alcohol-content drinks like shots and lock-outs.
Numerous studies into the impact of the measures have shown their overwhelming success. Since the measures were introduced, there’s been a 37 per cent decrease in late night assaults in the city. And emergency department admissions dropped by 26 per cent.
Neighbouring entertainment precinct, Hamilton was used as a control in the studies, and the research shows there was no spill-on to that area. Contrary to what some opponents of the model have stated, after the licenced venues in Newcastle shut down, people went home; they didn’t jump in transport to continue their night elsewhere.
We also saw a significant decrease in after dark assault rates in Manly when the local precinct there introduced similar restrictions.
But despite those overwhelming statistics being there in black and white, and despite the Last Drinks coalition and the community crying out for action for years, the authorities have continued to ignore them – seemingly turning their back on the needs of the community in favour of the wishes of the powerful alcohol industry.
Following the tragic death of Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross last year, the O’Farrell Government moved to introduce a range of measures to help combat the problem of alcohol-violence in the popular night strip.
Restrictions on glass, increased transport and more recently, sobering-up centres, now sit alongside the ‘three-strikes’ policy and ‘most violent venues list’ on the list of measures the NSW Government has introduced that it heralds as making a big difference.
Most of these measures are well and good, but they’re not the big-ticket items we need to see. Hopefully they will make a difference, but they’re really just tinkering around the edges. We need action that stops the problem at the source.
In recent times we’ve seen some real evidence that much more needs to be done. Particularly shocking incidents occurring on George St and the Sydney CBD have left a number of young men fighting for the lives.
We’ve also seen alcohol-related assaults skyrocket in Byron Bay, jumping 20 per cent since 2009/10. Assaults on police in Byron have jumped 25 per cent.
But the issue is not restricted to the well-known trouble spots. Local communities right across the state are dealing with the problem.
The Last Drinks coalition and our over 42,000 supporters have begun calling on local MPs to start calling on the Premier to take an evidence-based approach and introduce the Newcastle model elsewhere in the state.
We’re also calling on local communities to arm themselves with the facts and start taking action to introduce the proven measures regardless.
At a legislative level, the Last Drinks coalition has also been raising concerns about the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing.
We've seen time and time again the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing backing away from making the tough decisions that the previous NSW Liquor Court seemed capable of. We need a system that looks at evidence and fact, and unless OLGR can start proving that’s the case in its dealings, it’s time to look at disbanding the office and reintroducing the Liquor Court.
Successive NSW Governments have shied away from taking the action that is proven to work, refusing to so much as trial the Newcastle model in other jurisdictions like the Sydney CBD.
While the NSW Government and the alcohol industry continue to come up with excuses as to why the Newcastle measures won’t work elsewhere, and point to a reduction in assaults recently, the fact is that the statistics over time aren’t flattering. Our emergency departments are still filled to the brim with drunks and their victims on a weekend and more innocent people will fall victim to violence until serious action is taken.
In March of this year, an alcohol summit was convened in NSW that brought together politicians, health professionals, community representatives, emergency service workers and researchers. The summit marked ten years since the last one of its kind was convened by then Premier Bob Carr.
The statistics released at the 2013 summit were staggering. In the past decade, alcohol-attributable hospitalisations in NSW have increased by 37 per cent over to 49,409 (2010/11), while reported alcohol-related assaults in NSW have increased by 17 per cent to 26,038 (2011/12).
It was also revealed that very few of the recommendations arising from the 2003 summit had been introduced and those that have been, hardly any are evidence based or go to the heart of the problem.
A small decrease in assault rates in recent times is of course very welcomed, but it falls far short of the results the community wants to see.
If we’re serious about reducing the number of men and women whose lives are torn apart by alcohol-fuelled violence, we need to stop the problem at the source, not wait until its too late and then mop up the mess.
The access and availability of alcohol is at the heart of the problem – it’s what we need to be addressing. And we need to do it now. Without serious action, more innocent people will fall victim to alcohol-related violence and more lives will be left shattered.
The key is curbing the alcohol-fuelled chaos on our streets is sitting right in front of us. We just need decision makers willing to use it.
Article supplied by The Last Drinks Coalition.
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