Some sobering thoughts on how to tackle boozing
In mid-2011, amid a spate of violent attacks in the city, the State Government proposed a 4am curfew in Hindley Street. Like many, I supported the idea as an obvious, sensible way to curb the culture of boozing until you’re brawling.
I thought it would sail through parliament.
The Australian Hotels Association – a powerful lobby group that donates tens of thousands of dollars to both parties – was predictably furious, calling it a prohibitionist approach that would make us a national laughing stock.
What happened? The curfew was blocked by the Liberal Party.
Five months ago the results of a Whyalla trial were released, showing a pub lockout after 1pm led to a 45 per cent reduction in arrests and reports for drunken violence.
So, were similar trials rolled out in trouble spots across the state – trouble spots like Gawler or Hindley St?
No. And here we are again.
Last week a 39-year-old man died after an assault in a Gawler hotel car park. Another remains in a critical condition after being assaulted outside an inner-city nightclub.
To their credit, at least three Gawler pubs are looking to introduce stricter licensing rules to curb violence, including possible lockouts from midnight and pulling back closing times from 3am to 2am.
And in fairness, the Gawler pub where Dutchman Henk van Oosterom died had closed 45 minutes before the attack; owner Justin Irving says he already uses ID scanners and surveillance cameras.
But with all the hand-wringing over these recent attacks, it’s interesting to note a shift in focus away from the people who serve liquor, and onto “individual responsibility” and changing “community attitudes”.
That’s no bad thing, I suppose, but here’s a simple fact: there are pubs that do the right thing and pubs that don’t, and that includes following the strict rule of not serving alcohol to intoxicated persons.
One former hotel manager, who spent 20 years in the industry, says serving people until they’re plastered is a business strategy.
“In my experience, the majority of pub owners pay lip service to the responsible service of alcohol – people only get kicked out when they run out of money or the pub closes.
“We used to have a happy hour at 11pm, which was ridiculous because the place was full anyway. I’d argue with the owner because it just got people obliterated, and we’d have 19-year-old staff trying to deal with belligerent drunks. But he didn’t care – he said it got people through the door.”
Driller Armstrong, the owner of Sugar nightclub in Rundle Street, says some club owners clearly care more about profits than the integrity of their venue.
Armstrong says it’s time for the State Government to seek counsel from operators who successfully thwart violence – and get tough on those who don’t.
“I’ve got four friends coming out from Japan later in the year and there’s no way I’d take them to certain parts of the city – they’d think we’re just a load of Neanderthals.”
He says police need stronger powers to curtail drunken violence, and courts need to back up the police with hefty sentences that deter thugs.
Hard to disagree with that – how often do we see vicious brawls leading to court appearances that end in pathetic suspended sentences, or charges being dropped altogether?
It’s great that the government is considering extra measures including more CCTVs, ID scanning technology, extra security staff and banning certain glassware and drinks.
But how about a tougher carrot and stick approach while we’re at it: tax breaks for clubs with clean rap sheets; a two-strikes policy for repeat offenders who serve drunks, leading to shorter trading hours or suspended licences.
And yes, trialling lockouts or shorter trading hours to see if these additional measures curb violence.
Premier Weatherill told State Parliament this week: “We cannot go on like this.”
SA Police, paramedics, city day traders and basically anyone with commonsense has been saying that for years.
They’ve just been drowned out by vested interests.
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