Positive balance about New South Wales’ Liquor Act

September 2016

Eight years ago the government in New South Wales, Australia, decided on a new legislation that should reduce consumption of liquor in public premises. Today, the situation in bars and nightclubs has changed a lot from the years before, as for example in a suburb of Sydney.

Loud music is coming out of the club whenever the door is being opened. The queue of people waiting in front is getting longer each minute, but this does not disturb the doormen of the nightclub “Northies” in Cronulla, South Sydney. No matter how much time it takes, everybody needs to show an evidence of age. Two young men are refused to enter: Their European ID is not accepted. “I really can’t believe they don’t let us in although we’ve got our European IDs”, complains twenty-one-year-old Christophe from France.

New legislation restricts use of alcohol in public venues

However, the doormen act in the right way. On 1 July 2008, the “New South Wales Liquor Act 2007”, the “Liquor Regulations 2008” and the “Gaming and Liquor Administration Act 2007” came into effect. They regulate the sale of Liquor in New South Wales (NSW), as well as “certain aspects of the use of premises on which liquor is sold and supplied”, according to the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR). For instance, one of the laws lays down that there are only three approved forms of proof-of-age: Driver’s licences, NSW photo cards and (international) passports. And the doormen have every reason to check each document twice: A bartender who supplies liquor to a minor on licensed premises can be penalized with a fine of eleven thousand Australian Dollars or twelve months of imprisonment – or both.

But Christophe and his friend, like many other travellers, could not care less about the strict legislation. And they are not the only unfortunate people this night. Many more almost-guests are refused entry, and most of the time because they show signs of intoxication. “We always have to pay special attention to our patron‘s speech, balance, co-ordination and behaviour”, explains George, who works as an RSA Marshal in the bar. Tonight, as a “Responsible Service of Alcohol” (RSA) guard, his role is to make sure that the law is being followed. “As soon as we recognize one of our guests is slurring, swaying or dropping drinks for example and that the reason is a result of drunkenness, we will politely ask him to leave.”

The presence of RSA Marshals is not the only change that has been carried out at the nightclub since the laws came into effect eight years ago: Signage that prevent minors without a responsible adult to visit the premises are displayed at each entrance door, free water is provided at the bar, and employees are instructed to record each incident in a register book, the so-called “incident register“. Violent or anti-social behaviour, people removed from the premises and patrons needing medical treatments must be written down and presented in case the police asks for insight.

Alcohol consumption as a preventable public problem

What is the reason for these strict regulations? According to New South Wales Police Force, alcohol is the most commonly used drug in Australia. Young people are especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol, and it plays a vital part for death among adolescents. Alcohol therefore constitutes a serious threat to people’s health. The government’s laws have however shown effect: Statistics from the “NSW Population Health Survey“ prove that the rate of alcohol consumption from 2006 to 2015 at levels that pose a long-term health risk significantly decreased from 31.4% to 25.9% in New South Wales.

Yet there are more considerable negative effects of alcohol: Its misuse has not only economic consequences – in 2013, alcohol related crime cost the NSW Police fifty-five million Dollar –, but also physical and social effects. For instance, clubs and bars have to deal with violent guests who are under the influence of alcohol. In order to reduce this problem, assault incidents should be recorded in all 18 000 venues that sell liquor in New South Wales.

Success of the law in Cronulla

Alicia Pusell, manager of “Northies“, is satisfied with the legislation from 2008: “We have far less incidents to note nowadays“. Indeed, the club’s amount of assaults per year has decreased from twenty-eight in 2007/2008 to less than eight since 2011.

These numbers are quite important because they decide on whether the venue has to face restrictions or not: Licensed venues can be categorised as level one, two or three depending on the amount of alcohol-related incidents. While in 2007/08 forty-eight licensed premises recorded nineteen or more assaults – and were therefore listed in level one – in 2015, the only club in this level is “Home Nightclub“ in Sydney’s CBD. The latter has registered 19 assaults during one year, whereas eight years ago the highest number of assault incidents in one venue was 73. Nowadays, “Home Nightclub“ is the only club that has to obey some special rules, such as a mandatory 1.30 am lockout of guests and no use of glass containers after midnight.

Little by little, “Northies“ became a secure place to go out at night and today, its number of venues has declined to such an extent that it is not listed in any level anymore. “I know what the atmosphere was like a couple of years ago“, remembers Monica, a regular patron of the nightclub, “and now it’s calmer in a way, less aggressions. But I think it’s a shame the staff became so serious. The other day a German friend couldn’t get inside because the doorman thought he was drunk – but it was just his accent that made him believe it!“

Tonight, Monica and her friends were luckier than the French. After all Christophe has learned a lesson: “Next time I will bring my international passport“, he declares, before he leaves with his friend, hoping to find a nightclub that does not take the law so seriously.

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