Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Council's anti-alcohol policy up for comment

Council has spent a fortune commissioning two studies in an attempt to manufacture "evidence" for their belief that Kings Cross and Oxford St have reached a "saturation point" of licensed venues which has in turn produced an explosion of "alcohol-fuelled violence".

Unfortunately for Council, crime and assault has reduced steadily over the past year even as new venues with a capacity of 3,300 people have opened. Their studies use data from 2001-2006 and ignore the three years since.

Even so, the actual research is still very ambivalent. It notes that "saturation point" is not an objective thing but a matter of opinion. One of the studies is therefore an opinion survey which interviewed 190 residents of Kings Cross (excluding those in pubs, interestingly). While Council cherrypicks bits of the data to support its agenda of blocking approvals for licensed venues, lots of the data shows the opposite trend. In Kings Cross, only 19% (36.1 people) wanted to “restrict opening hours/alcohol outlets”, while the same number wanted more small bars. Oxford Street data was similar. This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of Council’s anti-pub position.

Councils and the surveys ignore the wishes or the needs of the tens of thousands of visitors and tourists who come weekly to Kings Cross in party mode, a massive social force. Against that they can show 36.1 people who agree with them and who apparently believe they have the right to suppress  Sydney's only destination precincts because they moved into them. It's just like someone who moves next door to a motorway and then campaigns to have it closed.

Even a Land and Environment Court  magistrate suggested  that residents who can't stand living around a party precinct should simply move elsewhere. This outraged local anti-alcohol campaigner Andrew Woodhouse who called for the resignation of the magistrate. Mr Woodhouse maintains that people have a right to quiet and good order no matter where they choose to live, and says that people can't move because they are "shackled to their mortgages".

As property prices have continued to rise around here, one would think these people could sell up and buy elsewhere if they hate it so much. Just a thought.

The high-profile violence around here is not alcohol-related in any case. Transvestite sex workers are regularly and systematically bashed, thugs bring guns out and shoot people, and a policewoman was recently bashed in the head with a brick and robbed. This is serious and should be the focus of public policy, not a vain attempt to shut down the only 250 metres of party precinct in around 4,900 square kilometres of Sydney. 

However the old squelchers will eventually learn the same lesson as previous generations of temperance activists who have tried to "rescue" Kings Cross. Like all prohibitions of popular culture, the best they can do is create a ‘balloon effect’. What you squeeze in one area simply pops out in another. The good people of other suburbs need to beware of Council's latest campaign.

For a fuller analysis see my City News reports here and here.

The City's research and policy is on exhibition and up for comment until July 31 here.

The serial complainers always flood Council with their view, but the majority are too busy getting on with their life to be 'Council nerds'. I urge you to have a look, make up your own mind, and email a comment to

Just keep it short and make a clear for or against statement, followed by a few points. One of these might be that concentration of venues into an entertainment precinct has many advantages, which Council and the research ignores. I've listed some in my City News analysis.

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