Cheers, it's time for Last Drinks
July 22, 2013
Richard for 2011

Love for Kings Cross is a strange kind of love ... Problem of violence regarded as secondary to the economic imperative of selling heaps of alcohol ... Street violence remains high ... Overseas comparisons ... Anita Senaratna reports  

 

Peter Lew from Barrio Chino says there's been a "significant drop" (pic: Anthony Browell)

IT'S been over a year since Thomas Kelly's death, but alcohol violence and the liquor restrictions in Kings Cross venues are still a hot topic.

Every week seems to bring another story of an unprovoked brutal assault on a young person in Sydney's CBD, or an initiative to try and curb the violence - the most recent being the State government's "drunk tanks".

Incidents like the assault on Simon Cramp and, more recently, Matthew Blackmore, both of whom were assaulted late at night on George St (now known as Sydney's "Angry Mile"), suggest that not only does alcohol-fuelled violence remain a problem, it's a problem that's not confined to booze-fuelled Kings Cross.

Local bars, nightclubs and restaurants complain about the liquor restrictions that were put in place by the State government last December following the Kelly incident.

The Bank nightclub on Darlinghurst Rd closed its doors after the ban on shots, doubles, cocktails, glassware and no more than four drinks per person after midnight. 

Many of the smaller bars and restaurants that serve wine and cocktails with food claim they are struggling to stay afloat, despite not having any record of violence on their premises. 

"We have definitely dropped quite significantly," says Peter Lew prioprietor of Barrio Chino, the Mexican eatery on Bayswater Rd.  

"It means we can't now serve a bottle of wine because it's glass, and because it contains more than four drinks, and we can't have cocktails because it's more than two shots. 

It pushes more people to just have a vodka soda essentially, and that's not the reason we opened up Barrio Chino. We want to serve margaritas and tequila and that sort of stuff."

Lew says that while he recognises the need for the restrictions, he doesn't see why they should apply to his business.

"We're not a nightclub. If you come to our bar on midnight Friday or Saturday, there are 40 or 50 people maximum. It's well lit, we're serving food, it's a completely different environment. I think [small bars and restaurants] get caught up in these restrictions when I really think the intention was the nightclubs. 

A lot of commentators say that the venues are the bad guys. The reality is a lot of our venues are safe. If kids are going to drink when they're coming into the Cross, how do you stop that from happening?"

Peter Lew was one of many local business owners who was part of last year's We Love Kings X campaign, a community initiative that aimed to "fight the NSW government's excessively hard liquor laws [and] promote our beloved Kings X as a great place to dine, drink and party". 

The "We Love Kings X" campaign successfully lobbied against the government's original plan to introduce measures similar to the ones in Newcastle, which would have included a 3am lockout on all venues that serve alcohol. 

Doug Grand (left): in love with Kings Cross

Doug Grand, President of the Kings Cross Liquor Accord, was a key part of the campaign.

He has since been working with the council on a number of initiatives designed to crack down street violence, which he sees as the real problem. He told Postcode2011

"What we've always said all the way through this is that this isn't just about alcohol, it's about violence. 

The actual assault rates in the street haven't gone down at all, they've actually gone up. People forget that Thomas Kelly was king-hit just after 10 o'clock at night, not three or four in the morning. It can happen at any time."

Grand described the restrictions as 'draconian', because they will hurt existing businesses that don't have any history of violence, and they may decide to leave Kings Cross in favour of less heavily restricted areas.

"We never thought that a blanket approach for all would work," he said.

"A lot of the age groups that used to come to Kings Cross now just walk across the Coke sign into Darlinghurst and get whatever they want.  People like Jimmy Liks, Barrio Chino, the Hugo's Lounge boys, you don't want to see operators like that leave the area because the restrictions are too tough. We want to encourage good operators to stay."

Grand believes that improving late-night public transport options is the key to making Kings Cross a safer place.

"There's always been a lack of public transport. 

The taxis up the fares early in the morning, and they don't always use the actual secure ranks, they wind the windows down a couple of inches and cherry-pick their customers, which creates a lot of aggression and unnecessary problems."

He does have a "Grand Plan" - the Liquor Accord worked with the City of Sydney Council to secure a $200,000 grant under the Federal Government's Safer Suburbs scheme.

The money will go towards upgrading the taxi rank on Bayswater Rd. 

"What that will mean is that there'll be better lighting there, CCTV, a review of the lighting in Bayswater Rd itself so we can make that a real transport hub to get people out of here safely." 

Grand believes that another major challenge is the stigma attached to Kings Cross as a dangerous red-light district, an image that is still perpetuated by the media.

"Anything that's within a certain radius just automatically gets pinned back to Kings Cross in the media, which is unfortunate. There was a report on the Simon Cramp attack in George St and one of the networks had their reporter being interviewed under the Coke sign. The perception is hard to shake, but that's obviously a big challenge that we've got ahead of us."

*   *   *

Pat Gooley, Last Drinks Coalition

ON July 7, exactly a year after his son's death, Ralph Kelly wrote an open letter to Barry O'Farrell in The Sydney Morning Herald, in which he called on the Premier to do more to stop more young people meeting the same fate, and to "reduce the trading hours of licensed venues, set limits on the number of new liquor licences, and provide the community with a greater say in the determination of new liquor licences". 

Perhaps the most convincing argument for increasing venue restrictions has come in the form of the Last Drinks Coalition, a group of police and emergency doctors and nurses who have seen the worst effects of alcohol-fuelled violence and decided it was time for the State government to rethink its position.

According to its website, the group aims to "tackle the issue of alcohol-fuelled violence head-on, by challenging the 24/7 drinking culture that has permeated modern Australian society".

The Last Drinks Coalition believes that the best way to do this is to introduce measures modelled on the ones currently in place in Newcastle.

This includes 3am closing for all Sydney venues, 1:30am lockouts and restrictions on the sale of alcohol from 10pm.

The campaign highlights the fact that these restrictions have led to a 37 percent drop in alcohol violence in Newcastle venues, and a 26 percent drop in street violence. 

Pat Gooley, who is Vice-President of the NSW Police Association, says that alcohol-related crime is a "massive drain on resources" for police, specially at night on weekends. He told Postcode2011

"We're not saying pubs should close at midnight, but certainly instead of closing at 5:30am they close at 3am to reduce that incidence of assault. 

We're not wowsers, many police enjoy time out with their friends and having a drink in their own time, but there's got to be a limit."

Although their proposal doesn't directly address the issue of street violence, Gooley believes there is an "interaction" between venue closing times and assaults on the street.

"We accept that a lot of these assaults don't happen in licensed premises; certainly they happen after people leave.

But, when you get a high concentration of late-closing venues, you certainly see an increased number of assaults, and as the night goes on the incidence of assaults grows exponentially.

If I could reduce any crime category by 37 percent by just winding back by two hours, the government would be jumping at it, but for some reason they're steering clear of these proven measures."

As well as addressing the issue of alcohol violence, the Council of the City of Sydney plans to continue to develop Sydney's "night-time economy", which it hopes will provide more late-night options for Sydneysiders that don't involve alcohol.

In a recent interview with Postcode 2011, night-time economy manager Suzie Matthews said that night-time economy was "not just about bars and clubs, it's also about the retail sector, entertainment options, cultural activities and the other kind of events and industries which happen at night".

According to Gooley, the measures that Last Drinks proposes will help Sydney's night-time economy rather than bring it to a halt at 3pm.

"We think that if these measures were brought in across Sydney what you'd see is a city where people are happy to go out in groups, they're happy to go out and enjoy the late-night economy they always talk about instead of just drunken people punching along the street. 

We hear a lot about world cities and New York and London and those types of places, they don't have pubs that close at five in the morning.

You can't get a beer in Times Square after one in the morning. I think we could look a lot more like the world city that people say that we're aiming for." 

Anita Senaratna reporting

Article originally appeared on Local news from postcode 2011 (http://postcode2011.com.au/).
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