Lockout advocate urges community to stand firm
February 10, 2015
Richard for 2011 in Clubs, Lockout, Politics, Pubs

Tony Brown, the Newcastle lawyer, who pioneered the alcohol lockout laws ... Community engagement can defeat the power of the liquor industry ... Tony Brown tells Laura Corrigan about the personal cost of his activism 

Tony Brown: locking in changes to businesses dependant on the sale of alcohol

THE lockout and last drinks laws have reduced assaults as well as also business turnover in Kings Cross and the CBD.

The liquor industry is unhappy and one person blamed is community advocate Tony Brown, who in 2008 pioneered the "Newcastle Intervention", on which Sydney's liquor restrictions are based.

Brown says he's not out to get the liquor industry, he just wants to see communities more involved in decision making. 

The latest twist in the lobbying and jockying for position came in January when Troy Grant, Deputy Premier and Minister for Hospitality, Gaming and Racing, said the laws would be reviewed one year ahead of schedule.

He was smartly contradicted by Premier Mike Baird as soon as he returned from India. Baird said he was proud of the crackdown on alcohol fuelled violence and "does not intend to reverse or water-down the lockout laws". The review will not happen before the scheduled time in February 2016. 

Tony Brown said this confusion and contradiction is an example of the undue influence the liquor industry has on politics. 

This influence was seen when the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) and Liquor Stores Association (LSA) helped develop the renewed Liquor Promotion Guidelines for the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing - down to the actual wording of the document. 

Paul Nicolaou, in charge of one of the Liberal Party's major fundraising arms was also CEO of the NSW branch of the AHA before resigning ahead of an ICAC enquiry. 

ICAC probed his involvement in funnelling illegal donations from property developers to the NSW Liberal party through the Millennium Forum and the Free Enterprise Foundation.  

Political donations from the liquor industry were also banned in 2010, but prior to that it made significant contributions to both main political parties. Brown said he's concerned whether the party fundraising bodies were used to wash illegal liquor industry donations as well.

Brown has been under fire since he helped with the police application for the Newcastle intervention. 

"I've received numerous death threats, 17 malicious assaults, damage to our house and car, and subjected to attempted character assassination by powerful figures in the [liquor] industry. It really brought home to me the power, the influence and the protection this industry enjoys."

Despite this, he's proud of the roll-on effect he and 150 community members in Newcastle have had. Not to mention the estimated 3,000 to 4,000 assaults prevented

He told Postcode 2011 the hysteria that followed the Newcastle intervention was similar to what happened in Sydney. After a period of adjustment Newcastle now has more licensed venues than before and a more diverse offering of night time entertainment. 

He said that the media should be more critical when reporting stories about businesses failing because the lockout laws. 

"If they can't change their business models from one which is not totally dependent upon excessive volumes of alcohol sold, then they really shouldn't be in business." 

Since 2008 Brown has continued with his community empowerment activities. He was the project manager of the Alcohol Community Action Project (ACAP), an initiative trialled for one year that aims to bring liquor licensing and venues into line with community expectations - and not simply reflect the demands of the liquor industry. 

He helped 2,000 concerned residents in Casula to stop the De Angelis Hotel Group's development of a three-storey, 30 poker machine and 24-hour hotel being built on the Hume Highway. 

Criss Moore, a local resident and founder of the Community Group of Responsible Planning, sought Brown's help after he came across an elderly lady in the street, who was upset by the proposed Casula development. 

Brown provided Moore with research, advice and support, happily taking Moore's calls around the clock.

They submitted 2,000 signatures against the hotel, which predominantly comprised complete letters. An independent review for Liverpool Council found six reasons why the hotel shouldn't be built and the developers withdrew. 

To challenge the influence of the liquor industry Brown wants the Baird government to put aside money earned from the risk-based licensing scheme to create a community defenders' office. 

"Money is sent overseas to help people to get good education. Well, we're in the same boat, we need a good education on how to look after ourselves," said Moore. 

Brown continues to work with communities using his own resources. Brown said: 

"The reason why I do it? Stupidity or madness? No? Well that's probably a small part. But it's a strong sense of social justice, a strong sense of deploring corruption and an overwhelming passion for our future generations whose lives were being threatened and snubbed out by this inappropriate relationship between a very powerful industry and politicians." 

It's a possibility that Brown will run for the state seat of Newcastle in the March elections.  

Article originally appeared on Local news from postcode 2011 (http://postcode2011.com.au/).
See website for complete article licensing information.