The matter of lockout laws is a fraught one given the collision of personal freedoms and public safety. The latter is largely the purview of the organisations within the NSW/ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance, that have begun their bid to make greater alcohol restrictions in regional, rural and remote communities a battleground as the March state election approaches.
These are not organisations primarily concerned with the commercial realities of trade, tourism and the like. The 47 member organisations include the University of Newcastle, the Cancer Council NSW, the Public Health Association’s NSW branch, the state’s police association and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
A large portion of their number specialise in public health and safety, in researching policies that will be both effective and efficient. They also include the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation, named after an 18-year-old struck in an unprovoked incident in Kings Cross who later died in hospital. Mr Kelly’s family established the foundation “so that no other family has to endure a loss” like theirs.
This first-hand knowledge, research and pain is valuable. While critics may argue that the laws go too far or are heavy-handed in their application, Ralph and Kathy Kelly’s support speaks volumes.
This is not to say the matter is simple or settled.
In April last year, NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority chair Phillip Crawford discussed the initial findings of a review of Newcastle’s lockout laws.
“The case for maintaining existing patron lockout restrictions in the 14 Newcastle venues, and for maintaining requirements for the sale or supply of liquor to cease 30 minutes before closing, was strong,” he said.
A NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research bulletin in February 2017 found a 49 per cent drop in non-domestic assaults in Kings Cross when the laws arrived, but noted displacement was possible.
Critics have contended the statistics around the changes are imprecise as a measure, and perhaps give the changes too much credit when areas without them have also seen improvements. Indeed, the same bulletin that noted the near halving of assaults on the streets of Kings Cross was evidence of the assaults shifting into other areas.
A coalition of front-line workers, researchers and others taking steps they believe will save lives carries a credibility that goes beyond the easy label of wowserism.
We owe them at least an audience.