A few questions came to mind when I read that former High Court Justice Ian Callinan had been appointed to head the independent inquiry into amendments to NSW’s liquor licensing laws, including the controversial lock-out laws”.
Mr Callinan was a member of the High Court when it decided, by a 3:2 majority, that hoteliers owe no duty to use reasonable care to prevent patrons from causing harm to themselves as a result of excess drinking. Despite the economic interest hoteliers have in encouraging patrons to drink, and to keep drinking.
The primacy of personal responsibility was clearly the over-riding value in the statement by Justice Callinan that:
Except for extraordinary cases, the law should not recognise a duty of care to protect persons from harm caused by intoxication following a deliberate and voluntary decision on their part to drink to excess [Cole v South Tweed Heads Rugby League Football Club  HCA 29, at ].”
The lock-out laws that currently apply in the CBD and Kings Cross precincts of Sydney were neither an exercise in temperance by the NSW Government, nor a response to the fact that alcohol is responsible for 5% of Australia’s burden of disease (Australia’s Health 2016, p 59).
Rather, the lock-out laws were part of a package of amendments seeking to reduce the number of unprovoked alcohol-fuelled assaults by yobbos on Sydney streets.
For a short review of the “one-punch” reforms, see here.
The impact of the liquor licensing amendments on supermarkets and bottle shops was discussed here.
The death of Thomas Kelly, who was punched in the head during a night out in Kings Cross, was partly a catalyst for these changes.
In July, the Kelly family suffered a further loss with the death of another son, Ralph.
The injustice visited upon this family is heart-breaking, it is dizzying.
But it truthfully illustrates how alcohol-related harm spreads outwards – through families and beyond, like the ripples in a pond.
Much of that harm is externalised by the alcohol industry onto others.
What is the industry’s response?
Industry-funded “DrinkWise” public health messages/advertisements (can’t tell which) like this one, that build brand value for alcohol companies and associate beer brands with water sports.
Yep, that ought to work.
Watch out for the new “SmokeWise” e-cigarette advertisements – brought to you by Philip Morris….
Highlights from the Callinan report
In his report, Mr Callinan gave particular weight to the opinions and experience of police and the medical profession. He said:
“The police and the medical profession, the latter of whom are financially and generally otherwise disinterested in the relevant issues, are strongly, adamantly, of the opinion that it is the Amendments in total and in combination that make them effective in reducing alcohol-fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour in the [CBD and Kings Cross] Precincts”.
He concluded that the Precincts were “grossly overcrowded, violent, noisy, and in places, dirty, before the Amendments, but that after them, they were transformed into much safer, quieter and cleaner areas” (p 10).
Mr Callinan was dismissive of the assumption that the vibrancy of a city at night can only be measured by the amount of alcohol consumed or available. However, he acknowledged that opportunities for live entertainers may have diminished, and that the amendments may have contributed to some closures of premises selling alcohol, and some reductions in employment opportunities:
“The Amendments have come at a cost which is not quantifiable but which should not be exaggerated to employment, live entertainment and the vibrancy of the Precincts” (p 11).
Mr Callinan did not accept that violence had simply been displaced to other areas. In response to the usual suggestion that anti-social drinking should be addressed by “cultural change and education”, rather than regulation, he said: “Cultural attitudes are difficult and slow to change. The legislature in the meantime has to deal with the situation as it exists” (p 6).
Mr Callinan pointed out that the lock-out laws had enabled more police to be deployed in detecting and preventing non-alcohol-related harm, rather than tying up resources (pp 8-9).
Mr Callinan stated that he regarded the 10 pm curfew as making “little or no contribution to violence and anti-social behaviour in the Precincts” (para 9.10), although he acknowledged it might contribute to domestic violence (para 9.11).
He recommended relaxing the hours of sale for takeaway alcohol at licensed premises to 11 pm, and home delivered alcohol until midnight (para 9.10).
Two of the more controversial liquor control measures included in Mr Callinan’s inquiry were the “lock out” and “last drinks” provision.
For a trial period of two years, Mr Callinan recommended a relaxation of the lock-out laws from 1.30 am to 2.00 pm, but only to enable patrons to enter those parts of premises offering live entertainment. He recommended a further relaxation of the liquor sales cessation period, from 3.00 am to 3.30 am, but only in respect of patrons in the “live entertainment” parts of the premises.
The NSW Government has indicated it will respond to the Callinan report before the end of the year.