Sydney's controversial lockout laws could change in 2016, with the government announcing a review one year ahead of schedule. But doctors are urging the state government not to change the laws after experiencing a dramatic decrease in alcohol related injuries since its implementation last year. Doctors at St. Vincent's hospital in Sydney say the reduction in head trauma especially is proof that the laws have had a positive effect.
David Faktor, a spokesman for St Vincent's hospital told VICE that there had been only one admission to the intensive care unit for alcohol related injury since the lockout laws, and that was the recent one-punch case of Patrick Lyttle ."It's a complete turnaround," said David. "Everything from a cut above the eye, through to the fracture of the cheekbone or broken nose, right through to a fractured skull…that whole spectrum has declined since the lockout laws." Health campaigners are now nervous that the laws will be reversed, after widespread suspicion that pressure from the alcohol industry prompted the early review.
Following the death of two teenagers from one-punch attacks, laws aimed at curbing alcohol related violence were introduced in February last year in Sydney's entertainment district. All together, there were 16 pieces of legislation introduced, but it was the 1.30AM lockout of patrons from venues and banning of alcohol sales in pubs and clubs after 3AM that were debated most. There has been much opposition from pubs, clubs, kebab shops, and anyone who makes a dollar from drunk revelers, who have all reported flagging patron numbers and significant losses.
But the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research's (BOCSAR) figures paint a promising picture for the health of party-goers. Since the introduction of the law, there has been a significant drop in violence both in and outside of licensed premises with a 40 per cent drop in alcohol related violence on licensed premises, and a 26 per cent drop in incidents outside licensed premises. That's a significant reduction compared to changes in previous years. Meanwhile, for the rest of Sydney, rates of alcohol related violence have remained unchanged.
But the trouble with the BOCSAR figures is that they calculate the "40 per cent drop" by comparing the 153 assaults on licensed premises in 2013 with the 93 assaults in 2014. But that doesn't account for the fact that Kings Cross has seen a large fall in party-goers. The City of Sydney last year compared footpath congestion numbers from six Saturday nights in March and April 2014 with figures from December 2012, finding an 84 per cent decline in people on Darlinghurst road—meaning the decline in violent assaults per person might not be that significant.
And although at first glance it looks like the 2014 lockout laws are dissuading party-goers from heading out, data from the City Of Sydney's Late Night Management Areas Research Report show that pedestrian counts in Kings Cross were already falling dramatically before the laws. Pedestrian numbers during 1 and 2AM on a Saturday night on Darlinghurst road fell 48 percent in 2012 from their 2010 levels. So are the lockout laws successfully dispersing party-goers, or is it also that people have been choosing to go out less for some time now?
Secondly, there have been changes to police operations in the area since the new laws. Inspector Scott Mostram of Kings Cross LAC says police have been tasked with patrolling more licensed clubs, pubs and bars. However, there has been no increase to police numbers in the area. And perhaps some laws are working better than others. Peter Miller, a research fellow into public health at Deakin University, last year wrote that the 3AM stoppage of alcohol sales was the key piece of legislation for lowering violence but contested the 1.30am lockout, arguing that its effect had not been proven in prior studies.
It's hard to reach a conclusion just one year on. Nevertheless, the government will carry out the review in June. It's facing extreme pressure on all sides – whether it can help flagging businesses in Kings Cross while continue to keep alcohol related violence down remains to be seen.
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Image via Flickr user Stephen Mitchell