In this week's instalment of citizen journalism, head of the Melbourne Nightclub Owners' Association, Peter Iwaniuk, argues that free water is not the answer to curbing antisocial behaviour and calls for an overhaul of the RSA training course.

"I recently attended an RSA training course with some of my staff and I believe the course is in urgent need of revision.

The RSA course should provide bar staff (and police and security) a better understanding of the psychology of patrons who engage in problematic behaviours.

The course at present is too focussed on the physiological effects of alcohol which tends to remove responsibility from the individual for their actions.

Most people consume alcohol responsibly and will not become violent even when they have consumed large amounts.

Behaviour, however, is always the first indicator of a problem – the abuse of alcohol is a symptom of a behavioural problem or worse still, a mental illness.

Through a better understanding of the psychology of patrons, bar staff can often intervene earlier before a patron displays overt symptoms of intoxication, and therefore avoid the consequent problems that may arise with anger, anti social behaviour and violence driven by the underlying psychological issues.

In the same vein, we also need to move away from the simplistic and now tired old catch phrase of ‘alcohol fuelled violence’.

The fundamental causes of violence are psychological issues, cultural factors and criminal activity.

Mental health, inadequate socialisation opportunities for young people, conflict within and between ethnic sub cultures, socio economic disadvantage and criminal activity associated with the black market economy (eg illicit drugs) are the major predictors and precipitators of violence.

Another problem with the current RSA course and its focus on alcohol consumption, particularly as it applies to bar staff in late night entertainment venues, is the fact that the bulk of alcohol is consumed before entering nightclubs, purchased either from bottle shops, pubs or bars.

What is a major indictment for your Government is that it has not conducted any in depth research of its own into the Melbourne night time economy to study where, why and how people drink (or for that matter use other drugs) before and when they go out.

As a consequence your Government has simplistically and unfairly labelled late night entertainment venues (including dance clubs, striptease and live music venues) as high risk when the underlying causes of problem drinking and sociological causes of anti social behaviour and violence lay elsewhere.

Governments elsewhere have by contrast undertaken such research, for example:

Front, side, and back-loading: Patrons’ rationales for consuming alcohol purchased off-premises before, during, or after attending nightclubs Journal of Substance Use, February 2010; 15(1): 31–41 A. J. M. FORSYTH

Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, Glasgow Centre for the Study of Violence, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK

This research found that drinking before entering nightclubs was the norm, although the location and extent of this ‘front-loading’ or ‘pre-loading‘ varied.

To quote: “This would appear to justify nightclub operators concerns about their premises being unfairly blamed when their door-staff have to deal with persons turning up intoxicated on alcohol purchased elsewhere (e.g. the supermarket)”.

Importantly, patrons interviewed reported a range of psychosocial motives for consuming alcohol before or after night-club attendance, rather than a single reason (e.g. cost differential).

The findings of this research imply that off-premises alcohol consumption by night-clubbers is widespread driven by a range of psychosocial factors, such as pre-dance socializing, loss of inhibition (ie ‘dutch courage’), and that these were at least as important factors in the decision to purchase off-premises, as were price differentials.

Quite clearly, the need to ‘write oneself off’ is a personal psychosocial decision driven by life influencing events (eg break up with a boy / girl friend, loss of job, failure at university, rejection of any sort, etc) , broader cultural attitudes to alcohol, peer pressure and the like.

I again quote: “policy makers therefore need to take care with interventions designed to curb such behaviours; for example, policies which foster higher on-trade prices (such as exorbitant licence fee increases) may only encourage off-trade purchase and activities such as those described in this paper, while reducing late licenses on-trade (ie trading hours) may encourage increased ‘back-loading’ (drinking afterwards at another location eg street or private party).

This research supports previous assertions I have made that the off-trade, pub, and nightclub sectors are not distinct entities, and that ‘joined up’ policy involving all sectors is required (e.g. by reducing price differentials).

This is why a revamped RSA course should become mandatory for all pubs and bars that serve alcohol, not just those that trade after 1am.

I would strongly suggest that revamped course be rebadged ‘Responsible Patron Management’ (or similar) to reflect the emphasis on understanding and managing behaviour as the main objective.

This training should also not just be restricted to bar staff. It should be included in the ‘First Step’ training course for new licensees and managers, and all police and security officers.

As I have also previously advocated, a ‘safe socialisation’ kit should be issued to all secondary school students outlining the do’s and don’ts when venturing out to a nightclub for the first time (we have already produced a draft outline of what such a pack might contain).

In conclusion, it would be a major benefit if those who deal with the public both in the public and private sectors could more readily identify the individuals who are suffering from mental disturbances and disabilities so they can be more appropriately dealt with, either in terms of care and support as a first priority, but also effective containment and enforcement when public safety is threatened.

The community is made up of many sub groups and cultures and we must recognize that some are more problematic than others but that they also have a basic right and need to be provided with outlets for socialisation. You cannot simply ban these sub groups and cultures from entertainment precincts – rather we must have strategies in place to better understand their needs, provide support and isolate and deal with minority of problem individuals.

There will always be a small percentage of criminals and insane individuals in society and these people will be present at any place where people gather such as a sporting event, a shopping centre, a licensed premises, a train station etc.

This minority, due to their lack of social adjustment, criminal nature, or mental illness will cause problems wherever they go. It makes no sense to simplistically blame the location of their crime.

We must move beyond the simple blame game and deal with the problems in society in a more sophisticated and cooperative framework.

I believe a review of the current RSA training course would be an important step in this direction. Perhaps this could be a reference given to your Ministerial Advisory Council."

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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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