OPINION: Newcastle, New South Wales attracted the same odium as Queenstown, New Zealand, as an epicentre of non-domestic alcohol- fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour (ARV).
Attracting about 20,000 patrons to our CBD 5am closing pubs and clubs every weekend, resulted in us having the highest rates of alcohol-related assaults, drink driving charges and assaults on police in NSW.
Our boozed-up night-time economy was monopolised by violence, vandalism and vomit, fighting, fornication and falling over.
This bloody nightmare was reversed in 2008 following the imposition of a modest reduction in late trading to 3am and a package of other sensible alcohol supply and availability measures applying to all of these above premises.
Contrary to the powerful liquor industry's hysteria and scaremongering, the sky hasn't fallen in at Newcastle.
Not only over the past five years has there been an internationally unprecedented 33 per cent sustained reduction in alcohol-related non-domestic assaults and related hospital emergency department admissions - falling by 26 per cent - but enormous public police and health costs associated with picking up the damaged pieces has been dramatically reduced.
In practical terms, it is estimated that the small reduction in hours has prevented nearly 3000 younger people from being bashed on our streets at night.
No other cities in Australia can independently claim and establish comparable results.
There is no convincing and compelling reason why the Queenstown local community, its brave emergency workers, parents, patrons and even businesses should be deprived of the same independently and scientifically verified disproportionate benefits as those established in Newcastle by a very modest (2 hour) reduction in the supply of alcohol.
Three of Australia's leading alcohol harm prevention experts at a Conference in Newcastle in September 2013 estimated that for every hour you reduce service times, the community could reasonably anticipate a 17 - 20 per cent reduction in ARV.
Even the liquor industry's worst lie that these ''draconian'' conditions had ''devastated'' Newcastle has been effectively debunked.
Five years on we now have more licensed premises, safer streets attracting more people to a more diverse range of premises including small bars and restaurants not predicated on dangerous binge drinking and booze barns.
Importantly, levels of preloading have also fallen.
We also have attracted 82 per cent community support and 75 per cent patrons support for more safe and sensible trading hours and related conditions.
It is very important that Queenstown Lakes District councillors acquire the capacity to see through the predicable hysteria and misinformation arising from vested interests dependent upon maintaining unsustainable volumes of alcohol supplied and served to willing younger drinkers.
The same private individuals and organisations are quite happy to shift the enormous associated harms, costs and inconvenience onto taxpayers resulting in less public spending on health (longer waiting times), education, roads and council services.
Don't accept silly suggestions that earlier closing ''puts more out onto the street''. The reality is most binge drinkers keep drinking to closing time whether it be 6pm, midnight 3am or 5am.
Preloading on heavily discounted grog occurs everywhere and will continue as long as it is so readily available and licensees still allow entry and serve intoxicated patrons.
Queenstown's supposed reputation as a ''party town'' does not have to be synonymous with the dubious distinction as a pisshead paradise. Having alcohol hospitalisation rates double that of Dunedin or Invercargill hospitals cannot be excused or ignored.
The warmer Australian international tourism destination of Byron Bay is grappling with the same problems of the dangerous oversupply and availability of alcohol and lack of effective enforcement of the Responsible Service of Alcohol. Its tourism reputation is being tarnished by having the third highest rate of ARV in NSW.
Byron folk have mobilised and formed a community/small business coalition Last drinks at 12.
They aim to effectively reduce their current 3am closing times to achieve at no additional public costs (eg more police, CCTV and lighting), disproportionate reductions in ARV like Newcastle.
Some clever thinking realises that more tourism can be attracted (and retained) away from places like Queenstown by creating a more diverse range of safer and responsible night-time businesses and popular events that entertain, feed and excite families and tourists.
A modest reduction in the late oversupply of booze has proven actually better for more businesses and even over time, gained majority support by younger patrons.
When I think of Queenstown I think of bungy jumping and snow. The immediate adoption of proven evidence-based, alcohol harm prevention and cost saving measures requires no similar giant leap of faith. Don't be blinded by an orchestrated widespread liquor industry self-serving snow job.
Chairman, Newcastle Community Drug Action Team,
Mr Brown, a solicitor, led and represented more than 150 Newcastle residents and small businesses in the police-initiated case that introduced a reduction in pub closing times - Editor
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