Australian Hotels Association (NSW) president Scott Leach has dismissed the trial of stringent restrictions on pubs and bars in Wollongong as little more than desperate electioneering.

Under its Hassle Free Nights initiative, the State Government will introduce a two-month trial period from March 1 that includes a blanket 2am lockout, a ban on shots and doubles after midnight and stricter admittance policies.

Below Leach outlines his concerns with the proposed restrictions and dismay at a NSW Police Union decision to release dated footage of violent acts captured by CCTV in Wollongong’s CBD.

“Wollongong has become the first battleground in the State election campaign, with the Police Union using outdated footage of violence in the inner-city as part of its endless war to wind back hotel hours and get people off the streets.

First casualty – the reputation of Wollongong.

Second casualty – the reputation of hotels and clubs that are not even shown in the footage.

Third casualty – the good relationship between officers on the ground and licensees, trashed by a Police Union with a political agenda.

The simple fact is most of this footage is more than two years old. Its release purposefully ignores the many changes that have already been made to Wollongong’s drinking culture by hoteliers; who have also introduced a raft of proactive measures.

As AHA (NSW) Illawarra President Karl Gilmore said recently – “things have changed down the main street since then.”

And how?

In addition to the hoteliers measures, we have had a range of initiatives put in place in Wollongong as part of the NSW Government’s Hassle Free night’s initiative.

Wollongong is now one of five special precincts that are seeing new measures introduced including the introduction of Responsible Service of Alcohol marshals.

Some hotels even have sniffer dogs in an attempt to stop the burgeoning drug problem in the community – something the police union seems loathe to tackle.

Yes, the footage released by the Police Union was graphic and violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society.

But one has to ask the question; where were the police?

There is no sign of an officer in any part of the footage – despite it all taking place in inner-city Wollongong and only a short walk from police headquarters.

High visibility policing is the best answer to anti-social crime. We need officers out there on the beat keeping the peace – that is their job.

Or it used to be.

It is not good enough for the Police Union to release footage of out of control fights – taken out of any context – then simply call for hotels to shut earlier.

Hoteliers have no control over people who drink at home then head out into the city, they have no control over people affected by drugs, they have no control over underage kids who are allowed out til all hours.

They only have control over what goes on in their premises.

Indeed, most problems, if and when they occur take place at the doors of hotels when drunks are refused entry.

Hoteliers have a responsibility to the community to provide safe venues for their patrons and that is what we are working on in Wollongong and all over NSW.

Police have a responsibility to do just that – police. Not release CCTV footage of a mall to fit a self-serving mantra calling for blanket earlier closing times.

The draconian approach by the Police Union is heavy-handed. It is playing politics and it is unfair both to the people of Wollongong and to local hotels.

Hoteliers are running a business – they are part of your community donating tens of thousands of dollars a year to local charities and sporting groups.

They do not deserve to be slandered by an out of control Union working to an industrial campaign agenda with no interest in real solutions.

In fact, just last month, local police praised the behaviour of licensees after the success of Operation Waterfront.

These are the police that are on the ground and seeing the problems first-hand. The police that deal with the alcohol-fuelled violence at out of control house parties or during domestic disputes. The police that see the affects of mixing alcohol and drugs in a dangerous cocktail.

These are the problems we need to be dealing with.”

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The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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