By Andrew Starke
Recent media reports and teenagers bragging about underage drinking on social media sites have triggered a new crackdown in and around licensed venues in popular beachside towns in the lead up to Schoolies Week.
Minister for Tourism, Major Events, Hospitality, Racing and the Arts, George Souris, said the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) and NSW Police have launched the joint operation to stop minors getting into pubs and clubs and accessing alcohol from bottle shops.
There was some confusion over the initial success of Operation Undercover, which was launched in Newcastle on Saturday night (Sep 17), with Souris claiming it had netted ‘several under age drinkers’, while the Newcastle Herald alleged just one minor had been caught with fake identification.
Police and a team of 15 OLGR inspectors conducted walk-throughs at eight pubs and clubs, sweeping for minors and checking ID.
“There appears to be a growing trend where minors are bypassing fake ID for a borrowed ID from a relative or friend if they have a similar appearance, however, the Newcastle operation, which found several under age drinkers, shows that they will get caught,” said Souris.
While quick to praise security at the Newcastle venues under scrutiny this past weekend, police will use the Juvenile Drinking Initiative to target a total of 30 high risk late trading licensed venues to strengthen ID checking procedures and teach staff how to detect a fake or altered ID.
“Over the next three months, this campaign will be rolled out in the Hunter Valley, Newcastle City, Lake Macquarie, Tuggerah Lakes, Brisbane Water and Tweed-Byron Local Area Commands,” Souris said.
“Uniformed OLGR inspectors and police will conduct high visibility inspections of late trading pubs and clubs sweeping for minors on the premises and checking IDs.
“Officers will also be ensuring venue security staff is conducting proper checks at entry points to keep minors out and catch anybody attempting to use a fake ID.”
Minister for Police and Emergency Services and Minister for the Hunter, Michael Gallacher, said the operation had a blunt message to minors in the lead up to Schoolies Week: “Don’t try to get into pubs and clubs or buy alcohol from bottleshops because you will be caught and there are significant penalties”.
Member for Newcastle, Tim Owen, said the initiative was also a wake-up call for licensees guilty of serving alcohol irresponsibly in the region.
"This is about targeting irresponsible licensees, not those who are playing by the rules,” he said.
OLGR officers are currently attending liquor accord meetings and staging RSA on the Frontline workshops to help licensees introduce strategies to reduce the risk of minors getting into their premises.
“Security and door staff are being encouraged to use black light testing devices to verify the authenticity of special security features on IDs such as holograms and highlight any abnormalities if the ID has been altered in any way,” Souris said.
“With a range of internet sites offering bogus IDs such as international student cards, licensees are also being told to only accept a current driver’s licence, passport, a NSW Photo Card or proof of age card issued by another State or Territory.”