Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has warned badly managed or ‘problem venues’ that their operating hours could be slashed if they don’t comply with the Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2010.
“I commend the Government for progressing the important work of the former Sydney Liquor Taskforce through its Hassle Free Nights plan with this bill. The Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 extends the existing liquor freeze until 24 June next year, creates precinct-based and event-specific liquor accords, clarifies the director general's powers to reduce the trading hours of problem venues, and gives police and authorised council officers tip-out powers in alcohol-prohibited areas within accord precincts.
I support this bill because I support the principles underpinning it for the wellbeing of our young people, our residents, our police, ambulance workers, nurses and doctors. I support the bill because I support a vital vibrant night-time economy in a civilised environment that reflects a civilised community. This is what this bill is about. This bill identifies serious problems in our night-time economy and looks at practical ways to address those problems.
The liquor freeze has been in place for almost a year. It was introduced by the former Premier in response to my advocacy about serious impacts in my electorate—a city I lead with increasing numbers of licensed premises. Late-night screaming, singing, brawling, urinating and defecating in an aftermath of broken glass and rubbish that council cleans up have become regular occurrences in inner city streets.
Residents subjected to this behaviour live in Australia's highest densities. Every weekend they are subjected to noise, litter and intimidation because their neighbourhoods become one large venue. A recent Council of the City of Sydney pedestrian count recorded 6,000 people at the busiest section of Bayswater Road, Kings Cross, between the hours of 1am and 2am on a Saturday night. This is equivalent to Sydney Town Hall's full capacity of 2,000 people moving through Bayswater Road every 20 minutes and equivalent to the morning peak in Martin Place.
Darlinghurst Road also had a footfall of around 5,500 people between midnight and 1am on the same day, the majority of which had been drinking. Police and emergency services are overloaded, and workers are at risk of serious harm every weekend as these large crowds become intoxicated and engage in risky and antisocial behaviour. The cost to our health services is phenomenal.
A police news report in May states that St Vincent's Hospital emergency department spends up to $3.2 million a year treating alcohol-related injuries and intoxication. Under this bill, the current freeze on new and expanded liquor licences, extended trading hours and patron number increases for pubs, clubs, nightclubs and liquor stores in Oxford Street, Darlinghurst; Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross; and George Street south will continue until June next year.
The aim of the bill is to halt growth in patron numbers in these hot spots that currently have a saturation of licensed premises attracting crowds equivalent to those at major events. The freeze gives residents some much-needed respite from the rapid growth in late-night trading, which has changed their neighbourhoods. Extending the freeze will help prevent further deterioration of safety and amenity while work progresses on longer-term solutions.
The freeze is not a solution; it is only a first step. The Council of the City of Sydney is gathering data on the impact of licensed premises in the freeze area. I call on the Government to establish measures and provide the resources needed to capture the information to assess and evaluate the success of the freeze.
Last year, Sydney council stopped granting new footway approvals within the liquor-freeze areas to coincide with the freeze and extended its freeze on footway approvals. Extending the liquor freeze recognises that late-night trading in the inner city has reached an unsustainable level, with impacts on amenity, health services and safety beyond acceptable levels.
Yet the Liquor Act 2007 still identifies the central business district, The Rocks, Kings Cross and Oxford Street as extended trading precincts. This sends a message that greater availability of liquor is encouraged in these areas, contrary to the aims of the Hassle Free Nights plan, contrary to the aims of this bill and contrary to the liquor freeze extension. In the light of shocking evidence, we should not continue to consider extended trading in these areas beyond the hours considered for other areas.
I foreshadow that I will move an amendment at a later stage to remove reference in the Act to these areas as extended trading areas. I hope that the precinct accords in high-risk entertainment precincts created by this bill will develop effective responses to alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour, and that licensees from different areas including the central business district, The Rocks, Kings Cross and Oxford Street-Taylor Square can work together to promote safety and amenity.
Participation in precinct accords will be mandatory for premises trading late at night, which is something I have repeatedly called for. I am concerned that the size of the Sydney Central Precinct Liquor Accord could reduce its effectiveness given that it covers most of the city of Sydney local government area, representing a significant percentage of licensed premises in the State, as well as a diverse range of community groups and areas with vastly different characteristics. An accord of this size may not allow the flexibility required to deal with the different issues effectively.
While the inclusion of local government in precinct liquor accord advisory groups is positive, it is not a substitute for higher-level engagement. I am concerned that replacement of the Sydney Liquor Taskforce with the Sydney Central Precinct Liquor Accord demotes Sydney council from its involvement in high-level research and policy development. The precinct accord will not have the same focus as the task force, which has been research and regulation. Local government is the consent authority for most licensed premises in New South Wales. It is responsible for the management of public spaces in which late night areas operate and it responds to resident complaints about noise and litter. Therefore, local government must be proactively engaged in the legislative reform process.
I call on the Government to include local government in the New South Wales Government Alcohol Implementation Team, which will be chaired by Communities New South Wales. I welcome implementation of some of the agreed actions of the Sydney Liquor Taskforce and the Sydney Crime Prevention Partnership through the Hassle Free Nights plan, particularly joint working groups to coordinate inner city late-night bus services, public transport advertising, better management of queues, outdoor smoking and footpath access, and reducing glass and litter.
I strongly support extended powers under the bill to the director general to scale back extended trading hours of problem venues—I emphasise "problem venues". At the moment reducing trading hours involves an extensive process of investigation and conferences in response to disturbance complaints. Where there is strong evidence that a premises is poorly managed, Communities New South Wales should be able to respond swiftly and decisively. This requires not only legislation but also resources and political will. I look forward to seeing the practical implementation of these reforms.
I am concerned that the Hassle Free Nights plan is only a 12-month plan and the problem of alcohol-fuelled violence will not disappear overnight. Additional long-term sustainable solutions are needed. The Council of the City of Sydney has extensive experience dealing with the impacts caused by concentrations of liquor outlets and has invested significant resources, including examining overseas models, to research solutions. I call on the Government to work with Sydney council for long-term strategies and legislative reforms that recognise the complexity of late-night trading areas.
While the liquor freeze will help prevent impacts getting worse in areas identified as saturated with liquor venues, we need tools that will help improve these areas. Late trading should be based on a record of proven good management. Trading beyond core hours should be regarded as a privilege that non-compliant, violent and regularly infringed premises may lose. This approach is adopted in New York and it is the approach adopted in the City of Sydney Late Night Trading Premises Development Control Plan.
The Minister's response to my recent correspondence states that a permit system is not required because the director general will have stronger powers to remove an extended trading permit. But if extended trading comes up for regular review, venues are more likely to be better managed in the first place. This is what legislation should be about—responsible management. A permit system would bring home clearly to all involved in the liquor industry that the late night provision of alcohol to the public is a privilege that must be exercised responsibly, or be forfeited.
The Council of the City of Sydney's research supports cumulative impact precincts to enable local government and the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing to limit new licensed premises in areas deemed to be at saturation point. Unlike a freeze, this would provide an ongoing tool to manage cumulative impacts that will not be bound by an act of Parliament. Precedents for this approach are found in New York City, Paris and in cities in the United Kingdom. All global cities face the same issues, and we need to work with and learn from other cities that have dealt successfully with the problems.
Legislation should support definitions for "social impact", "social detriment", "cumulative impact" and "saturation". The complaints process requiring three or more residents to lodge a disturbance complaint should be replaced with a more efficient and incorporated system that operates between state and local government. I am concerned that this bill will confer on council rangers powers of confiscation in alcohol-prohibited areas that are the same as those that can be exercised in alcohol-free zones.
Council rangers do not have the same powers, training, resources or support as those of police officers to be able to deal with situations of potential violence. Council rangers could find themselves in difficult and even threatening situations that they are not equipped to handle if they attempt to confiscate alcohol. Illegal drinking is a matter for the police. I understand that no city rangers have been appointed as enforcement officers yet, nor is it intended or desired that such appointment will be sought. The control of illegal drinking should remain the role of the police.
I continue to support small bars in the inner city, which are one component of revitalising our night-time scene and providing alternatives to big beer-drinking barns. Recently I opened a new bar in Surry Hills, which is intimate and eclectic. It is what I had in mind three years ago when I championed small bars. I have regularly alerted the New South Wales Government to the need for a definition of "small bar" in the Liquor Act so that the different nature of these venues can be adequately recognised and so that they can be licensed. Other measures are needed because areas in the city have reached saturation as far as the number of licensed premises is concerned. We need long-term solutions to improve the vitality, functioning and sustainability of our late-night areas. I hope to see more reform to ensure the sustainability of our night-time economy.”
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