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    « Drink up - Newcastle is a long way away | Main | Eating quiche with the burghers of Potts Point »
    Friday
    Dec062013

    Identity, alcohol and the Cross

    UPDATE ... Introduction of ID scanners delayed ... Major bungle in latest move to counter alcohol fuelled violence and anti-social carry-on ... Failure to find a suitable systems operator ... Drink merchants have their concerns, as does the local MP ... 35 "high risk" venues required to scan the identities of patrons ... Anita Senaratna investigates 

    Summer is here and with it fresh waves of panic over how to deal with the larger-than-usual influx of backpackers, schoolies and night-time revellers making their way to the Cross.

    Along with the crowds the latest NSW government initiative to crack down on alcohol-related violence and hooliganism was also supposed to arrive.

    From today (Dec. 6) 35 high-risk licensed venues in Kings Cross were meant to switch on ID scanners for a 12-month trial period, under the Liquor Amendment (Kings Cross Plan of Management) Act 2013. 

    However, the program has been delayed to an undecided date because, incredibly, the government has failed to find in time a suitable systems operator. 

    According to a report in The Guardian ID scanners have experienced a variety of technical problems in other parts of the country. 

    The aim of the scanners is to prevent intoxicated people who are banned from one venue from entering others in the area on the same night, with the possibility of longer bans for serious offenders.

    The scanners were supposed to be operating in Kings Cross from 7am to 7pm Mondays to Wednesdays, and continuously 24 hours a day from Thursdays to Mondays.  

    It is proposed they will function in all licensed venues that operate after midnight and have a capacity of over 120 patrons.

    In addition to the ID scanners, there will be privacy training for venue staff, enhanced banning orders, more police officers with greater "move on" powers and the three strikes disciplinary scheme.

    The government's original announcement of the scheme was met with its fair share of criticism, including concern about the definition of "high-risk" venues, the hours the scanners will be running, the potential for invasion of privacy and the operating costs potentially being passed onto customers.

    Greenwich: there needs to be a bigger picture approach to the Cross

    Alex Greenwich, the Independent state member for Sydney, has been particularly vocal on the subject.

    Although generally in favour of the scanners, he is concerned about the hours that they will be operating, particularly during daylight on weekends.

    "My concern there is that people who want to go to a local pub for dinner or lunch will have to be ID scanned in times when troublemakers aren't around. 

    Indeed, [the ID scanners will have] a negative impact on some of the venues who will have to turn away patrons who forgot their ID just to have lunch. I guess the only good news for venues is that I sought the commitment of the Minister For Hospitality and Tourism to ensure that there'll be a review done within 12 months." 

    Greenwich said that if, after the scanners have been implemented, venues shared their complaints with him or the King's Cross Liquor Accord, he would make sure they were put to the government to be considered when the review took place.

    Many local business owners, who are already being hit hard by the existing restrictions, have questioned the need for the scanners, including Barrio Chino's Peter Lew and the Kings Cross Hotel's Sarah Lewis.

    While the list of 35 high-risk venues identified by the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing mainly consists of nightclubs, pubs and strip clubs, there are several venues on the list that serve food and have no history of violence.

    Inexplicably, the list also includes venues that have long since closed, such as The Bank Hotel and The Mansions Hotel.

    David Jouy, who is General Manager of The Bourbon, questions why his bar has been classified as "high-risk", saying that there have been no violent incidents since the venue opened in February. 

    The Bourbon wants drinkers to remember to bring their drivers licences

    However, he doesn't oppose the scanners and is now focused on getting the message out on social media to avoid losing business.

    "My big concern is that if people are not aware they're going to come for dinner on Friday or Saturday night and I'm going to have to refuse them entry because they don't have their license, and that will impact the trade if the message is not passed on.

    It's funny because we are flagged as a high-risk venue, but since the day we opened we've never had any issues. I think it's, you know, putting people in a basket.

    Because you've got a larger venue, you're also high-risk. That's not really looking a bit further and saying, 'Are you a high-risk venue because you have violence and alcohol-related problems'?" 

    Jouy said that while the ID scanners were not ideal, they were definitely preferable to the government's original plan to impose 3am lockouts on licensed venues.

    "We've been supporting the scanners because the scanners were to be implemented instead of the lockout and early closure. We prefer to having to scan people into the venue to closing earlier. 

    I think things need to be done to make the area safer. We don't want to be a place where people just come and get very, very drunk; we want people to have a good time." 

    Scanner - frequently they fail to recognise IDsDespite the controversy that accompanied the first phase of venue restrictions, they do appear to be having the desired effect on alcohol fuelled violence.

    According to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, there has been a 23.7 percent drop in violent incidents in licensed premises within New South Wales.

    However, there is debate over whether this indicates less violence or less reporting of violence. 

    Regardless, Hospitality Minister George Souris does consider the statistics to be "encouraging".

    Greenwich, however, believes that there is still room for improvement. On November 19, he called on the government to "move beyond legislative stunts and band-aid solutions" and conduct a parliamentary inquiry into alcohol violence.

    "I think the government really needs to have a bigger picture approach to the Cross." 

    He identified public transport, licensing conditions of venues, and the tendency of hostel courtyards to become "unofficial beer barns" for backpackers.

    All are areas that need to be looked at. The local MP adds:

    "An ongoing issue for people that come to the Cross is a lack of transport, so people loll around and continue to drink up until 5am when the trains start running again. It's particularly important now, with the increased move on powers and banning orders that we actually give these people ways to get out of the Cross, rather than having them stay and causing trouble.

    There are lots of things that need to be looked at in a more holistic way to deal with the issue of antisocial behaviour in the Cross, and I'll continue to be calling on the government to do so." 

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