Feb 7, 2017

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Michael Thorn: Lockout laws are keeping Sydney safe

Do we really want to roll the dice and risk all we have achieved? Sydney’s lockout laws have only been in place for two years and rates of violence and hospital emergency department ­presentations are down.

The action of the O’Farrell government in February 2014 achieved what health and law enforcement experts promised. Yet, here we are two years later talking about abandoning these lifesaving measures. What have we accomplished?

The lives of those who live and visit Kings Cross have been transformed. Police, diverted to act as taxpayer-funded crowd controllers for pub and clubs, can return to fighting crime.

St Vincent’s Hospital emergency department doctors can focus less on the bloody aftermath of alcohol-­fuelled street violence, and instead on other patients in need.

The late night phone calls to the families of teenagers suffering life-threatening injuries have stopped. And taxpayers have been ­relieved of some of the financial burden of managing the gross oversupply of alcohol in Kings Cross and Sydney’s CBD. Christine Foster’s view, (‘Sydney’s been locked out too long’, Daily Telegraph, (2/2/17) is typical of those calling for the cancellation of the massively successful lockout laws.

A flawed argument that suggests just because the crisis seems to have passed we can now relax these modest restrictions. Let’s apply this misplaced logic to other areas of community risk.

There hasn’t been an Australia airline hijacking in years; let’s discontinue security checks at airports, perhaps even allow people to carry firearms again. There are fewer road crashes; let’s relax the allowable blood alcohol limit to 0.08, maybe even axe it.

None of these things will happen because governments understand the risks of removing these safeguards and the importance of acting in the public interest. Governments’ role is to ­protect the community. The problem with the hectoring of the opponents of Sydney’s modest restrictions on ­alcohol supply is their refusal to ­accept, or even understand, this notion of the public interest. Foster, the Keep Sydney Open crowd and bar owners seem to think we can have it all — late trading and no alcohol harm.

The evidence of medical experts shows the longer the hours of trading, the more alcohol harm. The lesson from Sydney’s world-leading lockout laws is that alcohol harm has been ­reduced. The smart thing to do is to apply what we have learned more widely. As we have done with road safety, disease control and terrorism.

Michael Thorn is Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE)

Originally published in The Daily Telegraph