IMBIBING THE IMPACT – Adam van Kempen
I was in Sydney recently for a short course and we took the opportunity to catch up with some friends. It was the weekend after Mardi Gras, and a week after the NSW Government had introduced new restrictions on licensed premises in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross. These are the same restrictions that have been in place in Byron Bay for more than a year, thanks to the Liquor Accord in collaboration with local police.
We had a leisurely lunch at the c.1876 Surry Hills pub where we stayed, enjoying the local and sometimes fascinating characters that still prevail in those old areas. After dinner with friends, we found ourselves back at the bar with a fairly sedate Friday night crowd – certainly no aggression. About 11 o’clock, members of the local command arrived en masse. No fracas to be seen or heard but 12 of them made their presence felt throughout the hotel, speaking with the publican, staff and patrons. The friendly mood dissipated.
I observed one constable in particular – he stood out as the one that looked like a 12 year old with a beard and glasses – when I politely asked if they were props, he had the good sense to politely ignore me.
The following night, with other friends, we descended on a (pre booked) venue in Oxford Street that spruiked itself as a “Cabaret Dinner Show”. These days it’s Burlesque, not Cabaret that draws the crowd. We arrived with some trepidation as I saw large groups of women wearing sashes, the bride-to- be type, but were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the performances, the warmness of the staff, and the un-refectory-like food. The Drag Queen MC waxed and waned, worked the crowd, and the mostly hens’ night patrons lapped it up.
Imagine my surprise to look over my shoulder through the evening and come face to face with the same 12 year old constable. Jeez, I joked to my companions, they know I’m in town and they’re following me. Trying hard to avoid eye contact, I sought the heady fresh air and diesel fumes of the Oxford Street footpath outside, where several of the said constable’s colleagues waited for those inside to carry out their duties – checking books – speaking with the managers and security – making sure that none of the various Hens or their friends were in any way intoxicated and being served alcohol. This would have been a clear breach of the Liquor Act exposing the licensee to a fine of up to $11,000.
So, I said to my new constable friend outside, how’s the new regime? He was a friendly chap – understandably bored by the long nights of standing outside licensed premise while his (just) superiors spoke with the licensees and checked that all was in order.
Very effective – was his reply. Since the end of February, licensed premises in Sydney CBD and Kings Cross have had the same restrictions imposed on them that the Byron Bay community willingly embraced…well not everyone was willing, but the greater good prevailed. Anecdotally, he said, warming to his theme, assaults had dropped and the streets had become more manageable for those in the ‘front line’ – within a week! It was an organic situation for Sydney, and it was a long time coming for Byron Bay, but there is no doubt that small and incremental measures: 1.30 lockouts, no service after 3am, restrictions on energy drinks mixed with alcohol, make a remarkable difference to the social fabric of the town – any town – all towns.
Newcastle set the bar (no pun intended): they have had these sort of licensing ‘restrictions’ in place for several years. The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (http://www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au) reports that alcohol related assaults within the Newcastle lockout area fell by up to thirty percent following their introduction. Independent research by Professor Kypros Kypri of the University of Newcastle not only confirmed these result after 18 months of the introduction, but also found that the trend had been maintained after five years.
Speaking with local police and their impressions of the self-imposed restrictions on licensed premises in Byron from the perspective of those often on the beat has been interesting. No more marauding crowds bouncing from late night venue to venue at 2.30 am, complete change in atmosphere, generally much calmer. There will always be the idiots.
Not everyone agrees with the effectiveness of lockouts. Some argue that they encourage people to remain in venues and continue to drink, as other options are restricted. Others lament the effect that such measures have had on a once vibrant social scene, in Newcastle in particular, arguing that cultural shift and changes in attitude through education are the key to controlling violent behavior, rather than blanket alcohol and venue restrictions.
Many local people I know who don’t live right in town (and many who do) steered clear of Byron around New Year a couple of years ago. The ‘vibe’ was different last year, much friendlier, which is the essence of Byron. A friend commented that she wished that the Chill Out sign at the entrance to town would read “turn around, we really don’t want you”. I thought about that and it’s not the way Byron is, or certainly not for a long time. We revel in the diversity of those who come to our place and some of those who stay, but its not to be taken lightly or treated like a disposable element. We appreciate those who come, enjoy and respect.
This short piece started me thinking about what the police can and can’t do and some recent changes to the power of arrest in NSW under the Law Enforcement (Powers And Responsibilities) Act ( LEPRA). Maybe next time we will talk about LEPRA, or whether you can now be arrested for the purpose of questioning. If there is anything you want me to talk about in future articles, drop me a line at email@example.com.
The Byron Shire Echo
Volume 28 #48 May 13, 2014