The latest figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) show what has long been suspected: Sydney’s lockout laws are not the answer to what is a complex social problem.
The BOCSAR report, released yesterday, shows crime declining in the lockout zone but increasing outside it, and is evidence that a different approach is required.
The estimated risk one actually faces of experiencing “alcohol-related” violence on a night out is just 0.0125 per cent, according to the 2014 report by Data Analysis Australia titled: “How often does a night out lead to an assault”.
And while it would be better if there was zero violence anywhere, we do not live in a risk-free world and, when put into perspective, the risk of actual harm on a night out is so low that even keeping liquor licensing regulations as they now stand cannot be justified on the basis of harm reduction.
When considering mitigation of harm in relation to licensing laws, the harm considered is predominantly described as “alcohol-related” violence. Undoubtedly there are instances where alcohol is present when acts of violence are perpetrated, but there is no credible evidence to suggest that alcohol causes the violence. Ask yourself, does having a drink make you go and attack someone?
A comprehensive study, Understanding Behaviour in the Australian and New Zealand Night-time Economies, conducted by UK anthropologist Dr Anne Fox in 2015, found consumption of alcohol does not produce violence where aggression does not already exist.
Dr Fox says: “If alcohol alone makes people violent, we would expect to find incidents of violence spread evenly across the range of drinkers and in all drinking situations, from weddings to funerals to Saturday nights out on the town, but we don’t … it does not produce it where it doesn’t already exist.”
The risk involved with engaging in certain activities is always relevant when it comes to public policy. In mitigating risk, the likelihood of the risk occurring must first be determined. This is why the speed limit is not 20km/h for everyone, even though a small number of people choose to do the wrong thing, with tragic consequences.
We accept there may be risks, however low, involved with driving every time we get behind the wheel, and expect that government will legislate to deal with those who break the law as the average person drives responsibly.
The rush to simplistically blame alcohol for complex social problems continues to impact on our freedoms.
The recent minor relaxation is a small but positive step on the path to returning some of the lost vibrancy and amenity to our international city, but alcohol regulation needs a pragmatic, evidence-based approach.
A combination of education, social change programs, appropriate regulation of behaviours, changes to policing and public transport and the certainty of legal sanctions for violence offences would make a lot more difference than the current fixation with curbing nightlife and restricting people’s choices.
Fergus Taylor is Executive Director of Alcohol Beverages Australia.