Alcohol and violence has been in the media a lot lately, especially in NSW. Tony Brown, who is well known to many GrogWatchers as the man committed to reducing alcohol-fuelled violence in Newcastle, is now working on a pilot project through the Foundation of Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) called the Alcohol Community Action Project (ACAP). This week GrogWatch talks to Tony about the new project and how it is reducing alcohol-related harm in NSW.
GrogWatch (GW): What is ACAP?
Tony Brown (TB): ACAP is a pilot project offering a free advisory service for the NSW community to help it navigate the complex alcohol regulatory process and have a say on the control of licensed premises and outlets.
The service went live in February this year with communities being encouraged to call or email me for advice. The service also includes a website that features information guides on both the operation of local government planning approval and the distinct liquor licensing/complaints processes, which are currently heavily weighted in favour of the powerful liquor industry.
An inherent component of the free service is empowering and mobilising local communities by building on their unique asset bases.
ACAP provides strategic and tactical advice and assists communities with important submissions and advocacy. This effectively helps them create a media strategy and form strong alliances with other supportive organisations, so they can collectively strive for safer communities, preferably with the cooperation of the industry and government agencies.
GW: Why is it needed?
TB: There are a number of barriers preventing local communities from being fairly heard in key liquor-related planning and licensing decisions, which often adversely impact on them. Such decisions include:
- The approval of more and more problematic, large discount bottle shops and other outlets, especially those deliberately located near alcohol-related hotspots and communities suffering higher levels of social disadvantage.
- The increasing number of late trading licenced premises that represented a small percentage of all licensed premises, but create a disproportionate amount of harm compared to other venues.
- An unwillingness to take seriously and act decisively on resident and police liquor-related disturbance complaints.
- The continuing irresponsible advertising and drink/price promotions that aid and abet underage drinking, preloading and binge drinking.
By providing specialist advice about how communities can influence these decisions and empowering them to advocate for change, ACAP removes some of the barriers to informed communities being fairly heard.
GW: What has it achieved so far?
TB: In just a few months, ACAP already has significant runs on the board including:
- Assisting the Casula community in Western Sydney object to a proposed large, intrusive pub in their quiet residential neighbourhood close to a large primary school, child care facility, women’s refuge and public housing. The pub planned to close at 5am and have pokies available until 4am under the guise of a ‘family friendly’ venue. This controversial development application is currently before Liverpool City Council.
- Making submissions to the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority requesting that the process of assessing applications for liquor licences be made more transparent and fair. Currently important information like Social Impact Assessments relied on by the applicant can’t always be seen by the public.
- Bringing together over 12 local Sydney community/resident groups to consider the impact of the welcomed and successful Sydney CBD trial of a reduction in late trading hours. The group has agreed to advocate for a direct fair say in the further roll out of the trial and other measures to secure its ongoing prevention of alcohol-related harm. This includes an independent, comprehensive evaluation that involves local resident input.
GW: What does ACAP need to ensure it can continue helping communities?
TB: Funding. ACAP has already established its worth through providing struggling local NSW communities with specialised free and independent advice and support on liquor planning and licensing matters. This unique service is making a tangible difference to the effectiveness of local community action on alcohol harms.
The continuation of this important project is totally dependent on the whole community showing its support.