NSW lockout laws: violence travels, but there's a lot less of it

By Julian Bajkowski

March 6, 2017

Contentious lockout laws and alcohol sale restrictions imposed by the New South Wales government to curb violence in central Sydney trouble spots including Kings Cross have produced a strong overall reduction in reported assaults, even if incidents in nearby late night party zones have increased.

That’s the conclusion of the latest report card from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, which has confirmed trouble does travel from hot spots hit by the liquor crackdown, albeit not in the same proportions.

The latest statistics from BOCSAR, which now cover “non-domestic assaults” between January 2009 and September 2016, is a key evidentiary test “to assess the longer-term effects of the 2014 NSW liquor law reforms on levels of violence in the inner Sydney area.”

For Kings Cross, reported assaults were down 49% for the period, while “CBD entertainment precincts” recorded a fall of 13%.

Distal Displacement (orange) including Bondi Beach, Coogee, Double Bay and Newtown. Source: BOCSAR

Trouble does travel

The most scrutinised findings of the research are sure to be the measurement of whether violence spreads, how it does so and to what proportion.

“There was evidence of geographical displacement to surrounding areas with increases in non-domestic assault observed,” the BOCSAR report said.

In terms where trouble travels to, the crime research differentiates between immediately neighbouring suburbs and zones (proximal displacement area or PDA) and “a group of four popular nightspots within easy reach of the KX and CBD entertainment precincts (Newtown, Coogee, Bondi, Double Bay), called the distal displacement area (DDA)”.

The news is not so great for the alternate DDA party zone, with incidents up a sturdy 17%. Precincts neighbouring Kings Cross and the city also copped a double digit rise in violence of 12%.

But there is less of it

However it is the net-net reduction or increase in violence that policymakers, police and the healthcare sector will be most carefully analysing, and here the evidence for the effect of lockout laws is mounting.

“The reduction in the combined Kings Cross and CBD Precincts (930 fewer non-domestic assaults) was much greater than the increase in the combined proximal and displacement areas (299 more non-domestic assaults).”

BOCSAR director Dr Don Weatherburn observed that the effects of the lockout laws had not yet fully played out.“It remains the case, however, that the decline in assaults in Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD is still much larger than the increase in assaults in the displacement areas.”

Interstate policy implications

Introduced in January 2014, the performance high-profile NSW policy move to crack down on excessive drinking and all night venues is being closely watched by policymakers and regulators in other states, especially Queensland, where similar reforms are either underway or proposed.

Queensland in particular has taken a more incremental approach to venue closing times, with state cabinet shelving a second phase of 1am lockouts that had been on the cards.

Both NSW and Queensland lockout policies have been strongly criticised by liquor and hospitality industry groups that claim the measures are heavy handed, disadvantage live music venues and act to extinguish the so-called ‘night time economy’.

Cops not going quietly

However public servants on the frontline of cleaning up the consequences of binge drinking do not appear willing to let stereotypes go unchallenged.

While the NSW lockout laws have been largely portrayed as a sudden reaction to the death of Thomas Kelly, the move was preceded by strong agitation and lobbying for policy change by police, nurses, ambulance officers and doctors, who banded under the last drinks campaign that is still running.

The group is countering opposition to the laws with its ‘mythbusting’ campaign.

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