Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thomas Kelly and the latest Kings Cross panic

Even the recently diminished Sydney Morning Herald has bought into the latest tizz about 'fixing' Kings Cross after the senseless murder of Thomas Kelly who was king-hit from behind at random in Victoria Street, about 100 metres from where I live.

Never mind that this assault, and a day or two later a serious 'glassing', took place before 10 pm, the hue and cry is again raised about late-night trading and 'over-saturation' of venues.

Never mind that neither Thomas Kelly or his alleged attacker had been in any of the local venues [This was later debated as I have sinced blogged here]. Never mind that within the week another man was similarly killed by a king-hit in Kingscliff in northern NSW, and another serious 'glassing' took place in south-west Sydney. No, the problem is apparently Kings Cross and its late-night venues.

Then two ex-first grade Rugby League players were arrested for the Kingscliff incident and one Kieran Loveridge was arrested over the Kings Cross incident - while watching a practice session of League team the Canterbury Bulldogs at Belmore oval.

Presuming that Loveridge attends practice sessions of his favourite League team because he is pretty heavily into the game, it seems football and its culture of macho violence is the common problem here, not Kings Cross. But do we hear any outcry about Rugby League? Quite the opposite as I show below.

Linda Mottram in her 702 ABC Radio morning show tackled the topic, interviewing a priest and the headmaster of The Kings School (where Thomas Kelly had been a student). Both recommended (you guessed it) football as the best way to channel young men's testosterone and anger. The priest apparently even organises fight clubs for his young charges. Far be it from me to call this advice idiotic - whoops, I just did. Both of these "experts" went on to intone pious advice about restricting late night trading in Kings Cross, one of them declaring "the evidence is clear".

The evidence, however, is not clear. Ms Mottram also interviewed a genuine "expert", National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) deputy director A/Prof Anthony Shakeshaft who had also written a piece for the SMH. That piece leaped straight from the "hand-wringing over the tragic death of 18-year-old Thomas Kelly" - which was not alcohol or late-night related - to a sermon about alcohol-related violence and how alcohol needs to be made more expensive, less available  and advertising it should be banned. This unscientific leap of illogic seemed to go unnoticed by our fourth estate.

Worse, Professor Shakeshaft dismissed several practical remedies that would actually help late-night amenity in Kings Cross, writing: "the usual buckpassing and calls for more of almost everything, including police, CCTVs, transport and punishment". Professor Shakeshaft offered no evidence as to why these things were mere" buckpassing", which is a little strange for someone who is supposed to be evidence-driven. For one thing, when the Riot Squad routinely patrolled Kings Cross one recent summer as part of the state government's "bikie wars", violence reduced to nearly zero. But the researchers, councillors and NIMBYs ignore evidence like that.

Professor Shakeshaft did however cite some evidence to Linda Mottram - a tracking study of alcohol-related violence in Kings Cross and Darlinghurst from 2001 to 2007 which apparently showed that the violence increased in proportion to the numbers and hours of licensed venues.

I have previously questioned this research on several grounds. For one thing, Kings Cross was nearly shut down during 2003-4 as Council dug up the streets and footpath to install their grey-granite-and-smartpole makeover. Smack in the middle of the NDARC study, Kings Cross resembled a ghost town. I seem to remember the study also included restaurants in its definition of licensed venues, nothing to do with the so-called "beer barns" people are railing against.

After the study finished, as I have pointed out many times in various forums, in late 2008 several large new venues opened - Trademark, the Piano Room, Kings Cross Hotel and the Sugarmill. I questioned the "clear evidence" for cumulative impact/oversaturation theory  in City News July 2010:
Unfortunately for them, the evidence is running the other way in Kings Cross. The Sugarmill opened in December 2008, at about the same time as several other large venues which together added 3,000 drinkers to the licensed capacity of the entertainment precinct.

Saturation point theory would predict a sudden and large increase in crime, but the violence over that period decreased according to Police. An anti-alcohol campaigner at a community meeting attempted to link a cluster of incidents mapped around the Coke sign to the increase in venues in that area. The Police answer was clear and direct: “You’ll get no joy out of that, because the violence has decreased.”

Council’s own research, crafted to support saturation point theory, used much older data to make its case, ignoring this newer information. And Council’s survey of locals yielded only 16 per cent who wanted fewer pubs and clubs in the precinct.

Councillors have been apprised of this confounding information several times, but they simply ignore it in their burning ambition to impose their middleclass values on Sydney’s nightlife, supported by a small minority of complainers who have moved into an entertainment precinct they cannot tolerate.
It seems clear to me that the evidence is not clear. But Professor Shakeshaft and NDARC never research evidence that would challenge their pet theories, partly because the government won't fund them to do so. In following the government's ideologically based funding, they are reduced in some respects from researchers to propagandists carefully looking after their own income.

Another old saw being trotted out is that venue restrictions work in Newcastle, so it will work in Sydney. But Newcastle is not Sydney, where putting the squeeze on Kings Cross will just send the party-goers elsewhere including into unregulated underground venues and into suburban homes (next door to your place?). The do-gooders also ignore the unemployment they would cause. I documented this also in City News, writing:
Then there is the economic impact. Doug Grand, Chairman of the Kings Cross Liquor Accord, estimates that 2am closing would kill 780 jobs in Kings Cross alone. These are jobs largely held by students, actors and the like, plus security staff, DJs and musicians.

Midnight closing would double this employment carnage. Multiply it across the city and it would be a major hit to Sydney’s turnover which is already suffering from a two-speed national economy, paying the price of rising interest rates and an overvalued dollar driven by the resources boom.

The rising dollar is also hitting our tourism industry. Shutting down our nightlife would savage it, Oprah Winfrey notwithstanding. There were 19.7 million visitors to Sydney in the year to March, down another 1.4% from the previous year. With every overnight visitor spending on average $228 per day, Council needs to take care with a city economy that makes up eight percent of national GDP.
My City News article Lockdowns spread the pain showed how the Newcastle policy actually increased problems in Kings Cross, another thing ignored by researchers and the neo-prohibitionists.

The neo-prohibitionists also always ignore the many advantages of concentrating late-night entertainment into defined areas, including more efficient policing (quick response times, effective CCTV), less drunk driving as people walk between venues, public transport availability (until it stops at 1.30 am)  and the simple fact that it keeps the partying out of unpoliced unmanaged houses in quiet suburbs.

The anti-alcohol brigade also call for "better enforcement of Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) laws", blaming the pubs for serving people who are already drunk. Yet research by BOCSAR showed that about 25 percent of in-venue incidents involved patrons and staff - in other words, staff trying to enforce RSA rules. Some have called for RSA marshalls patrolling pubs and deciding who had too much to drink. This is notoriously hard to do - the only sure way is to breathalyse people. I have seen several cases of people being ejected from bars or refused service because a bar-person wrongly decided they were drunk.  Toughening such policies will surely increase violence. I for one am infuriated by security morons ordering me about as they enforce stupid rules like where you can drink and whether you are allowed to wear a hat. Fortunately, like the vast majority of drinkers, I am not the violent type.

There are many more arguments to my position - if interested, read the full City News articles I have linked above. For instance, just how dodgy is much of the "evidence" the neo-prohibitionists rely on is surgically exposed through Court records here:

For even more just go to and type "Michael Gormly alcohol Kings Cross" into the site's search box.

It's interesting that this large body of argument and evidence has never been challenged by the prohibitionists - they just ignore it and try to drown it out with their ideological clamour.

Ideology: a principled denial of the facts
-- Arthur Miller

1 comment:

AJ said...

Hi there.

This is a really interesting blog you've got here. I'm currently writing a blog on Kings Cross and Sydney's dwindling late night economy. It's a fairy new blog but there is a lot to come. I thought maybe you guys at the Kings Cross Times might be interested in checking it out.

Keep up the good writing.

Thanks : )