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Community pressure leads to positive reform in Sydney

Ground control to Major Tom our kids are dead there’s something wrong, can you hear me Major Tom?…planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do…” (Apologies to David Bowie)

As a parent and long term community advocate in Newcastle, I feel the pain, anguish and frustration of the vast majority of Australian parents and GrogWatch readers with the continuing cycle of preventable alcohol-related deaths and harm that disproportionately impacts on our kids.

The Australian National Council on Drugs reported last year that one in eight deaths of Australians aged under 25 is related to alcohol consumption.

The unprecedented community and collective media backlash against the NSW government that culminated in a package of measures aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm earlier this year, was one small step for government but one giant leap for effective alcohol law and policy reform in Australia. The package includes a:

  • Two year trial of 3am last drinks and a 1.30am lockout in central Sydney
  • 10pm state-wide closing of bottleshops

Whether this monumental decision can be quickly replicated across Australia and save more lives or, it is intercepted and thwarted by the powerful grog industry, depends primarily on the courage of our political leaders.

To his credit, our Premier has fired the first shot to effectively prevent alcohol-related harm. But communities need to keep the pressure on.

My advice to all other similar disaffected communities across the country, who are committed to ending this horrific repetitive cycle of alcohol violence and other harms, is to insist that governments put public, police and patron safety ahead of pub profits. Governments need to adopt cost-saving, proven and evidence-based preventative measures, starting with a two hour reduction in late trading hours.

The Newcastle model reduced trading hours and has seen a reduction in violence. The model has proven that it also provides business benefits because it promotes a safer, more inviting and diverse night time economy.

There is still a way to go in NSW. Why only include the 9 sq km area of Sydney CBD in the reduced trading hours trial and ignore the population in the remainder 809,435 sq km of NSW?

Equally contributing to the alcohol toll is the state-sanctioned proliferation and concentration of large discount booze barns supplying and promoting unlimited quantities of dirt cheap grog to thirsty young drinkers.

Costly, reactive and ‘tough’ measures are no substitute for a package of smart, proven and effective preventative solutions which have been demonstrated to work in Newcastle.

In the end, the too-high price we all pay for allowing the industry to keep calling the shots, to continually supply alcohol to highly intoxicated patrons to 5am under the phoney guise of ‘vibrancy’ or ‘global city’, is more predictable deaths, serious irreparable injury and heart-broken grieving families.

Tony Brown voluntarily led and represented around 150 local community members in the police initiated case that culminated in the ‘Newcastle conditions’ in March 2008

He continues to assist a number of communities and is Chairperson of Newcastle Community Drug Action Team.