SYDNEY MORNING HERALD – Violent Sydney CBD brawl sees teenage woman, two men arrested

Apr 18, 2017

Andrew Taylor

A man has been arrested and charged following a violent brawl in Sydney’s CBD early on Sunday.

Two teenagers – a man and a woman – were also arrested.

Police were called to Pitt Street about 4am, following reports of two assaults, to find more than 20 men and women fighting outside a convenience store.

A fight reportedly began inside the Arthouse Hotel, which left a man unconscious with serious head injuries, Channel Nine reported.

A violent brawl also erupted outside the hotel, with a crowd of up to 40 spilling onto the street.

More than a dozen police attended, using pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

Police said a 19-year-old woman was treated at the scene for the effects of pepper spray and was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital for assessment.

Two men, aged 18 and 29, and a woman, aged 19, were arrested at the scene.

The men were taken to Day Street police station, while the woman was taken to Surry Hills police station.

The teenagers were later released, pending further inquiries.

The 29-year-old man, from South Hurstville, was charged with affray and resisting arrest. He has also been banned from licensed premises in Sydney’s CBD.

The 18-year-old man released by the police said “the other people” had started the fight.

Asked about her injuries, a female companion walking behind him said: “Yeah, I’m all right, but.”

Police said they were continuing their inquiries and were speaking to a number of witnesses.

Seven News reported that police were also investigating whether security guards were involved in the fight.

Originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald 

THE CONVERSATION: Where are they now? What public transport data reveal about lockout laws and nightlife patronage

Apr 12, 2017

It is vital that public policy be driven by rigorous research. In the last decade key policy changes have had profound impacts on nightlife in Sydney’s inner city and suburbs. The most significant and controversial of these has been the 2014 “lockout laws”.

These were a series of legislative and regulatory policies aimed at reducing alcohol-related violence and disorder through new criminal penalties and key trading restrictions, including 1.30am lockouts and a 3am end to service in select urban “hotspots”.

A range of lobbyists, including New South Wales Police and accident and emergency services, welcomed these initiatives.

By contrast, venue operators, industry organisations and patron groups have made repeated but largely anecdotal claims that these changes caused a sharp downturn in profit, employment and cultural vibrancy in targeted areas. They also claim that the “lockouts” have caused drinking-related problems to spill over into urban areas that are less equipped to cope with them.

Crime is down

However, in late 2016, the Callinan Review referenced compelling evidence in support of the current policy.

According to the latest research, recorded rates of crime are down by around 49% in the designated Kings Cross precinct and 13% in Sydney’s CBD.

In contrast, what little research has been produced by opponents of strict nightlife regulation has been criticised as unreliable, inaccurate and poorly deployed.

The pattern of assaults has shifted since the lockout laws began. BOCSAR, Author provided

The Callinan Review noted the lack of verifiable claims about the negative impacts of the policy in submissions from the main opponents of the lockout laws. This has led to a great deal of assumption in the final report about where, for example, revellers, jobs, entertainment and revenue might have been displaced to, or how the policy changes affected them.

In many respects, the passing over of claims made by anti-lockout groups is rather unfair. These groups are not official state bodies with the capacity to produce the type of data or evidence on which the policy has been justified and defended. As such, their “unscientific” observations and experiences have been largely dismissed.

To critically balance and juxtapose opposing claims, more impact data and research are needed.

We must take a city-wide perspective

If the lockout policy is judged on the original goal of decreasing crime in designated “hotspots”, then it appears to have been a success.

However, from a city-wide perspective there are other issues to consider. Not the least of these is the effects in other nightlife sites across Sydney.

Despite initially finding no displacement of violence to nearby nightlife sites, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) has just released findings showing significant displacement in rates of recorded non-domestic-related violence in destinations outside the lockout zone.

Reported crime rates in Newtown, one of the displacement sites listed in the BOCSAR study (along with Bondi and Double Bay), increased by 17% in the 32 months following the lockouts.

These new findings appear to vindicate some local complaints about increased night violence – including attacks targeting LGBTI victims – that has led to much resident irritation and even political protest in recent years.

Adjusting our nightlife habits

So, how can we better judge the veracity of these claims about the displacement of nuisance and violence?

Mapping patronage trends is a key means of understanding how and why rates of assault have now increased despite initially showing little to no change.

To this end, Kevin McIsaac and I, with data from Transport for NSW, have set out to ascertain if and how nightlife participation in Sydney has been influenced by the lockouts.

Our analysis focused on night-time aggregated train validation data (turnstile counts) from January 2013 to July 2016 for stations servicing the designated nightlife precincts (Kings Cross, Town Hall) and precincts outside the lock-out zone (Newtown, Parramatta).

Using Bayesian Change Point (BCP) detection we found the following:

  • no evidence of changes to Kings Cross or Parramatta exit traffic from the introduction of the lockout laws;
  • evidence of strong growth in the Parramatta Friday-night exit traffic by about 200% since January 2013, which is independent of the lockout laws;
  • evidence of an increase of about 300% in the Newtown Friday-night exit traffic as a result of the lock-out laws; and
  • in all stations, the BCP algorithm detected a change when OPAL card usage exceeded magnetic ticket usage. This suggests the jumps seen in the graphs below are due to the higher exit reporting from OPAL. The switch from flat to slow growth in trend is probably an artefact of the relative increase in OPAL usage.

Kings Cross change point Friday night.

Kings Cross change point Saturday night.

Newtown change point Friday night.

Newtown change point Saturday night.

Parramatta change point Friday night.

Parramatta change point Saturday night.

These findings provide new insights into the way people have adjusted their nightlife habits. The most interesting finding is the dramatic increase in access to Newtown nightlife. Exits in Newtown have increased 300% since the lock-outs were introduced in 2014.

As can be seen from the graph, the rate of increase has been steady over the study period. This raises questions about whether there is a threshold at which patron density becomes an issue that potentially results in increased nuisance and violence.

Big data’s capacity to help

While this research is still in its early phases, the transport data tell one small, yet significant, part of the story. However, to draw definite conclusions, there is far more that needs to be considered.

Many nightlife patrons travel into the city by different means, or don’t travel at all (those who live in and around the city).

We need alternative data to try to identify patterns concerning these groups. Several different organisations have data that could help paint a more complete picture, including telcos, Google, Taxis NSW and Uber.

While these organisations should be protective of their data, the value of anonymous aggregate location data is how it can inform and advance public policy through ethical research. This information is key to breaking down access barriers. Without access to these anonymous aggregations of privately controlled data, the capacity of research is limited.

As such, there is a need for greater communication, collaboration and co-operation between producers of big data, the government and researchers into social impact. By building stronger evidence for all manner of policies, such partnerships have an amazing potential to contribute to the public good.

Originally posted in The Conversation

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Police and security guards take control of new taxi rank to make streets safer in Newtown

Apr 10, 2017

David Barwell, Kimberley Caines and Jillian McKee, Inner West Courier Inner City

POLICE and security guards have started patrolling a new taxi rank in Newtown in a bid to curb assault rates and reduce traffic chaos from late-night revellers hailing cabs along King St.

Three security guards have been employed to oversee the safety of patrons and taxi drivers at the cab rank (outside the Commonwealth Bank) near Whateley Lane.

Working from 10pm to 5am on Friday and Saturdays, the patrolled rank with seven taxi spots is an initiative of City of Sydney’s Late Night Transport Working Group and Newtown LAC.

Newtown police duty officer Acting Inspector Christine McDonald said the launch of the taxi rank was quiet, possibly due to people not being aware of it.

“We had three dedicated police officers for the taxi rank and they could have drawn on other officers if required but it was very quiet,” Act-Insp McDonald said.

Newtown Neighbourhood Centre chief executive Liz Yeo said the patrols were one of the ideas identified to keep King St “weird, vibrant and safe”.

“While there’s been a lot of positive feedback coming from the community meetings there are still concerns over late-night levels of harassment,” she said.

“We’re still pushing for late-night public transport options but having that added security is a really good outcome.”

The measures come as weekend visitation numbers in Newtown continue to soar fuelled by revellers ditching the CBD lockout zones for King St.

Newtown state Greens MP Jenny Leong has supported the move, saying problems were occurring when people were rejected from venues.

“What we know is that one thing worse than a drunken idiot on the street is a drunken idiot who can’t get a taxi home,” she said.

Assaults down, but not everyone swallows the stats

Latest crime figures show Newtown has missed out on the brunt of violence displaced by the infamous lockout laws — but some argue the statistics tell a different story.

While assaults rose more than 20 per cent in places such as Bondi and Coogee, statistics released by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research last week showed assaults had decreased in Newtown.

Prior to the lockout laws in 2013, Newtown recorded 161 assaults; this rose to 178 in 2014 but then fell to pre-lockout levels of just 163.

Newtown crime manager Detective Inspector Damian Goodfellow said that while many venues had seen patronage double or triple, crime had not followed.

“Although there has been a dramatic increase of foot traffic in the Newtown CBD, there has been a disproportionately low increase in crime,” he said.

But one prominent venue manager, who did not wish to be named, told the Courier she had become hesitant to call police post-lockout.

“It’s much more of a big deal these days to call the police to your venue, because in the back of your mind you’re becoming part of a statistic which can be used to destroy the industry you work in,” she said.

“These days, if someone threw a glass at me and I had security there who could keep the situation under control, I would second- guess if I really needed police there.”

But the manager said she often called police for other concerns with regard to harassment and failure to leave the premises.

This was evident in the crime figures, with liquor-related offences in Newtown up more than 32 per cent since the controversial laws were introduced.

Newtown Liquor Accord president Richard Adamson said while there may be “some hesitancy”, he believed police and venues had a good communication.

“I would encourage venues to be open with police around incidents and similarly encourage police and government not to enforce punitive measures on good operators because of isolated incidents.”

Originally published in The Daily Telegraph 


THE AUSTRALIAN: Sydney’s Sin City, Kings Cross, is emerging from the wreckage of the state’s controversial lockout laws with a new culture of underground boutique wine bars and pop-up eateries.

Mar 30, 2017

From gin joints down abandoned laneways, to whisky bars concealed behind unmarked doors, the area is experiencing a renaissance as young entrepreneurs reimagine spaces in a suburb long known as a red-light district.

Staff at the Equilibrium ­graph­ic design company have joined forces to launch a book offering an insight into the rebirth of the area from the perspective of bar owners, chefs and baristas.

Creative director Bec Paton said the idea came about after she witnessed the devastating effect of the lockout laws, introduced in March 2014, which banned many bars and pubs in Kings Cross from admitting anyone after 1.30am.

Locals complained that foot traffic was cut significantly, for­cing many businesses to close.

“There has been a lot of really negative discourse around Kings Cross, particularly since the lockout laws,” Ms Paton said. “But the Cross is growing up and is starting to become a centre of gastronomy and mixology. It is a really tight-knit, village-style community.”

The book, Naughty x Nice: Recipes + Stories from Kings Cross, Sydney, explores the sordid history­ of the Cross and examines the new night-life emerging in its place.

“We all live and work in the area so we selected some of our favourite bars and cafes and interviewed them about their perceptions about how the Cross is changing,” Ms Paton said. Each venue has also contributed a ­recipe that reflects their love of the area, including a reimagined pina colada from The Roosevelt. Originally owned by infamous gangster Abe Saffron, The Roosevelt was one of the jewels of King Cross in the 1940s, hosting Sammy Davis Jr, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.

Today, the exclusive cocktail bar, owned by hospitality mogul Sven Almenning, has a different look but operates under its origina­l name in a homage to “its ­famous forebears”.

“We consider the latest wave of bars and restaurants are contributing to a newer social history, and some of them have really ­interesting food and drink philosophies,” Ms Paton said.

“The owner of an Indian rest­aurant called Malabar was a chemist, and is interested in cooking Indian cuisine in really ­nutritional and healthy ways, which his customers love.”

According to Ms Paton, the characters in the book perfectly ­illustrate a fresh new feel for Kings Cross.

“The lockout laws have been devastating for business and night-life, but there are still really interesting things happening, and people have been extremely ­entrepreneurial in the area to give the Cross new life,” she said.

Originally published in The Australian

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

Feb 7, 2017

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

SMH: Changes to the liquor laws are no gift to NSW

Dec 16, 2016

With Christmas fast approaching, the Baird government is hell bent on its image makeover. Think less the Grinch that tried to euthanise the greyhound industry, destroy local councils and shut down an entire city, and more the loveable Santa determined to win your affection and in the longer term your vote. Read more.

GQ INC: Barry O’Farrell Breaks Silence On Sydney Lockout Laws

Dec 5, 2016

The former NSW Premier, and architect of Sydney’s ‘lockout laws’, opens up to GQ about the ongoing issues in the Harbour city.

Given the anti-Baird sentiment blanketing Sydney, many have forgotten that it was, in fact, the NSW premier’s predecessor, Barry O’Farrell, who crafted the lockout laws.

Read more.

SMH: Majority oppose plan to extend NSW bottle shop opening hours: poll

Dec 5, 2016

Public attitudes towards extending opening hours for bottle shops in NSW are split along generational lines with the majority of young people supportive but over half of the wider community opposed.

Read more. 

No evidence Star assaults under-reported SMH Rachel Olding and Sean Nicholls

Nov 24, 2016

Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:

A study examining claims that The Star casino has been hiding assaults from the authorities has found no evidence of underreporting after the lockout and last drinks laws were introduced.

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research re-examined all 278 assaults at The Star since 2012 after leaked documents revealed last month that the casino had not reported about 67 per cent of violent incidents to the police.

The revelations raised the possibility that the Pyrmont casino, which sits just outside the lockout law zone and is therefore exempt from the 2014 reforms, was deliberately hiding assaults. However, BOCSAR director Don Weatherburn said their analysis, to be released on Thursday, does not support this.

The bureau classified the 278 assault reports according to who made the initial report to police. Researchers then compared the proportion of reports made by staff over time.

The study found that the proportion of assaults reported by staff had actually increased from 56.5 per cent in the two years before the lockout laws were introduced to 60 per cent in the two years after.

It follows previous BOCSAR reports that have shown a small increase in overall assaults at The Star since the lockout reforms.

‘‘No one expects every minor bump and scuffle to end up in a police assault report but we would have been concerned if the proportion of assault incidents reported to police by staff at The Star had declined,’’ Dr Weatherburn said.

‘‘As it is we remain of the view that the growth in assaults at The Star since the lockout has up to this point been fairly small.’’

The leaked documents, prepared by the NSW liquor and gaming regulator, said 75 of the 111 violent incidents between March and August did not result in police attendance.

Read original story here.

FARE’s 2016 Federal Election Alcohol Policy Scorecard

Jun 29, 2016

A majority (78 per cent) of Australians think we have a problem with alcohol and believe more needs to be done to address alcohol’s harm.

So where do the major parties stand on alcohol policy measures this election? Click here to find out.

Click here to find out.