OPINION – Alex Greenwich
There is growing community concern about the disturbing instances of alcohol-fuelled violence and we urgently need to develop evidence-based solutions by working with doctors, families, businesses, police and residents.
Sydney’s problem is not unique. Cities across the country and the world are trying to curb the proliferation of binge drinking and the negative social consequences that come with it. There is ample evidence of what has worked in other places and we can learn from this and tailor solutions for our community.
Most of our international counterparts like New York, Paris, Vancouver and Amsterdam have renewable licences where bad venues lose their licence if they fail annual compliance assessments. Lockouts worked in Newcastle and could be part of the solution for Sydney, but could risk redirecting punters to other areas or lead to an increase in illegal parties or backpackers’ hostels becoming unregulated beer barns, where responsible service of alcohol rules don’t apply.
Much of the debate focuses on who is to blame; the venues, the industries benefiting from alcohol, the binge-drinkers, or the government. In reality all play a part in the problem, and they can all be part of the solution.
Whether it’s the media, advertising, sport, entertainment or liquor industries, many glamourise drinking and target young men. Some venues and bottle shops continue to serve people when they are clearly drunk and fail to comply with basic licensing conditions. We should look at greater regulation at point of sale and whether targeted levies on alcohol can have the same positive impacts they have had on reducing smoking.
This doesn’t excuse the blokes who turn drinking into a sport and arrive in the city ready for a fight. Deterrents in the form of convictions are important, but any conviction must include rehabilitation and education to prevent re-offending. We need to find solutions to the cultural causes that lead young people to seek dangerous levels of intoxication every weekend.
Given the perpetrators of violence sometimes start their binge drinking on the train coming in, transport to and from the City needs to be looked at both in terms of policing and scheduling. Inadequate late-night transport options minimise the chances for a safe commute and encourage the punters to keep drinking until the train services resume in the morning.
In the final week of parliament in 2013, I introduced a motion to establish a select committee to bring all sides of politics together and work toward solutions for alcohol-fuelled violence and consider all possible actions.
In parliament’s first week back in 2014, I will move to get this select committee established with priority and have written to the Premier and Opposition Leader seeking their support. We all must start a multi-partisan and evidence-based approach to this problem by supporting my proposed select committee which would listen to the experts, assess actions in other jurisdictions, and recommend solutions that will be enduring.
Alex Greenwich is the state MP for Sydney