Newcastle Herald: Push to loosen city’s licensing laws cops it

3 Feb / Newcastle Herald: ‘Absolute lunacy’: Newcastle police chief slams push to end lockouts

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp told media outlets last week that the three-month-old trial had been a “great boost to the city’s nightlife” and it was “time for the government to get on with the review” of lockouts.

He said on Tuesday that he was not suggesting the small bar trial be used as justification for a review of lockouts and stressed both sides of politics had supported a review “long before the trial had even been conceived”.

City of Newcastle chief executive officer Jeremy Bath and Labor’s shadow minister for the night-time economy, John Graham, have pushed for a review of the Newcastle lockouts in recent weeks.

Advocates of a review have argued that drinkers are now more sophisticated and cultural changes have made violence less likely.

Detective superintendent Humphrey said the 1.30am curfew was the most effective safety provision in the suite of late-night trading restrictions introduced in 2008.

“Diminishing the lockouts is absolute lunacy in my view,” he said. “I don’t want to see the city go back to what it was, and there is a flirtation with that idea now.”

Detective superintendent Humphrey said the lockouts had stopped “massive migratory groups of drunken people moving between premises and having conflict”.

“I don’t want to go back to standing on the footpath outside a licensed premises talking about the death of a young person from a one-punch assault.”

He said he had met in recent months with inner-city resident groups opposed to weaker trading rules.

“There is a high percentage of residential dwellings in the city, and it’s getting larger every day.

“All those people pay big money for rates, and they all have an expectation around the council governing alcohol licences and noise; they have an expectation around Liquor & Gaming; they have an expectation around the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority.

“I support those community groups. They’ve got to live there. Just because you live in the city doesn’t mean you’ve got to put up with a diminished lifestyle.”

He said the small bar trial was not intended to lead to relaxing lockouts.

“It is an entirely different beast, and my recollection of committee meetings was that we were adamant this trial was not a precursor to relaxing conditions on larger premises. In fact, quite the opposite,” he said.

“What concerns me is that we haven’t even ended the trial and they’re drawing conclusions.”

The joint parliamentary committee that recommended an end to Sydney’s lockouts advised in 2019 that the government should review Newcastle’s licensing conditions if the Sydney changes were successful.

Detective superintendent Humphrey said Mr Crakanthorp was right in asserting that the small bar trial had not affected crime rates.

“So far there’s been nothing indicative of a rise in serious crime around the small bar trial, but nor did we anticipate there would be.”

Mr Graham, who sat on the joint parliamentary committee, said the police view of Newcastle’s lockouts should be “taken very seriously”.

“I think the community view should be weighed as well,” he said. “We think it’s an appropriate time for the government to start asking these questions.

“We’re not interested in a pre-judged outcome or one where the evidence isn’t on the table.

“Just because this might have worked in Sydney doesn’t mean it will necessarily work in Newcastle. That’s a matter for the community in Newcastle.”

An official 2018 review of the Newcastle lockouts by Dr Jonathan Horton QC recommended they stay in place as an effective curb on late-night violence.

Detective superintendent Humphrey questioned the economic rationale for revisiting the lockouts to invigorate the late-night economy.

“The Horton review is the source of truth. If you disregard that, it is at your peril.

“There’s a suggestion that [businesses] are going out backwards. There’s been more licensed premises start since the imposition of the conditions than finish.”

Dr John Crozier, chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons National Trauma Committee, reiterated his support for the 2008 conditions.

“What I can say is that in my conversations with the staff in the emergency department and the trauma department of John Hunter Hospital the benefits of the suite of measures have been significant and sustained and it would be a pity to see them unravelled in the guise of a trial of liberalisation,” he said.

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