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Newcastle Model: are the critics correct?

Burdened with the embarassment of having the highest rate of alcohol-fuelled violence in NSW a decade ago, the community of Newcastle took bold, successful steps to reclaim their streets and nightlife.

Now widely known as the “Newcastle model”, a series of modest, enforceable changes to the way alcohol was served across the whole CBD area were introduced.

These sensible controls include a 3am closing time with an earlier one way door or ‘lockout’, and a limit to the way shots are served, which have all been in place now since 2008.

Alcohol related violence plummeted by 37 per cent within the 18 months of the controls being introduced, and is on a sustained downward trend. It’s estimated that around 5,000 young people have been saved from being assaulted since 2008.

The model has been so successful that it has been heavily referenced in the Sydney city controls to reduce alcohol related violence. The introduction of similar measures in Sydney from February 2014 are still being resisted by many in the alcohol and hotel industry, who instead rely on the same gloom and doom message used originally in Newcastle and now in Queensland. This is despite Kings Cross venues experiencing 1.5 million patrons in a much safer precinct since the modest controls came into effect in 24 June 2014.

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Image courtesy of the Newcastle City Council

New figures released in Newcastle show that their night-time economy is reaping the benefits of their bold move seven years ago.

Recent licensing information provided by Newcastle Police shows that as a direct result of the modest controls, the total number of licensed premises in inner Newcastle has more than doubled.

In a sign that Newcastle’s after-dark economy is much more prosperous, there has been a 140 per cent increase in the number of licensed restaurants and smaller bars.

These figures show new businesses are opening, more jobs are being created and people are spending money enjoying a much safer night out.

This evidence is a stark contrast to the dire predictions spouted by many in the alcohol industry when the controls were introduced. The reality repudiates recent allegations by a Brisbane operator that impending Queensland-wide sensible drink controls like Newcastle’s will ‘destroy’ their emergent small bar scene and the generation of young entrepreneurs.

The community’s attitudes to their city and its nightlife have been confirmed in a report just released by Newcastle City Council.

The Newcastle After Dark report surveyed more than 800 people as part of council’s community feedback panel.

It asked them about their perceptions and experiences in Newcastle after dark and whether they’d been exposed to any anti-social behaviour in the city, what they’d like to see more of in terms of after-dark activity options, how safe they felt, and their attitudes to more surveillance and lighting. The responses showed that the majority of people ranked night-time Newcastle high in terms of its safety, inclusiveness, diversity and vibrancy.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they had not had a negative issue, such as being exposed to anti-social behaviour or over-intoxication, in their last night-out in Newcastle.

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As Queensland and the ACT consider adopting similar controls, it’s vitally important we share Newcastle’s success story. Sure Newcastle isn’t perfect — undoubtedly alcohol-related-harm is still a concern in the city. But the “Newcastle model” is proven to be delivering a real triple win — for the community, patrons and businesses. The NSW government has derived substantial savings in terms of police and health costs.

There are some powerful industry groups in our communities who stand to profit by resisting and undermining attempts by governments to put sensible, proven controls in place to substantially stem the tide of alcohol-related harm.

Communities need to be vocal in telling their politicians the future they want for their cities. If we don’t tell politicians how we want alcohol regulated, you can be sure the alcohol industry will.

Contact your local MP today and tell them that you want sensible controls on the serving of alcohol in your community. There is one simple solution proven to sustainably increase safety, increase business prosperity and increase jobs while delivering substantial cost savings to tax payers.