Australia: Sydney wants to keep on partying, despite crackdown on alcohol abuse
Source: USA Today
February 23, 2016
A crackdown on alcohol abuse is sparking a backlash by defenders of this city’s party-on culture.
About 15,000 people protested last weekend against controversial new laws aimed to curb violence and problem drinking, vowing to “fight for their right to party.”
While the laws have led to a dramatic decline in alcohol-related assaults, opponents say such “nanny state” actions are hurting small bar owners, tourism and Sydney’s vibrancy.
The Australian state of New South Wales introduced the tighter laws in 2014 following the deaths of two teenagers in separate attacks by severely intoxicated men. Their deaths in the Kings Cross neighborhood prompted widespread calls to stop a spiraling wave of alcohol-related violence.
“Friday nights used to look like a war zone, with people coming in with heads bashed and vomiting blood,” said Gordian Fulde, director of St. Vincent’s Hospital emergency department. “Injuries that came in after 3 a.m. were just so much worse.” After the laws went into effect, “we don’t see the severely injured, life threatening cases anymore.”
Fulde said the hospital has seen a 25% decrease the past two years in alcohol-related patients between Friday nights and Sunday mornings who are in serious or critical condition.
He said statistics are difficult to attribute to one measure, but “anything that stops drinking to excess is a good thing.”
State laws now ban the sale of shots and bottled alcohol after 10 p.m. No new customers are allowed into a venue after 1:30 a.m., and no alcohol is served after 3 a.m. in Sydney’s central business district, Kings Cross and the neighborhoods of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills.
New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said the laws are working, claiming a 42% decrease in alcohol-related assaults in the central business district and more than a 60% decrease in Kings Cross.
Tyson Koh, a DJ and producer who organized Sunday’s #KeepSydneyOpen protest, blamed the laws for turning this once vibrant city into a cultural desert and making the city unattractive to tourists.
“We are all standing together to say we can have a safe, vibrant culture after dark,” Koh said.
Sydney residents have reacted with increasing anger. Around a dozen bars – including many iconic music venues – have closed because of declining revenue as a result of the curfews.
The Australasian Performing Rights Association said there has been a 40% drop in ticket-sale revenue for live music since the laws were introduced.
An Australian music producer who goes by the single name Flume said the laws are “destroying the cultural fabric and economy of the city.”
“It’s not just limited to music careers. There’s a complex tapestry of people whose livelihoods are impacted on the closing of late night venues,” Flume wrote in an open letter to the premier posted on Facebook. “The reduction in people out in the city also means other small businesses (restaurants, news agencies, taxis and so many more) are suffering.”
Marketing professional and Kings Cross resident, Daisy Johnson, 34, said her neighborhood has become a “dead zone.”
“We moved here to escape gentrification. We wanted to live in an area with a vibrant night life and a bit of character, but there is nowhere to go anymore,” she said.
Koh and other opponents also claim the laws are geared to help developers and generate casino revenue. News South Wales is second only to Nevada in terms of the number of poker machines per capita. Protesters, dubbing Baird “Casino Mike,” point to a 25% increase in alcohol-related violence around Sydney’s Star City Casino – an area exempt from the new laws.
Koh said alternative policies are needed to address Sydney’s drinking culture as a whole.
“We need late-night transport to move people in and out of city precincts. We need more visible policing. We’re talking about anti-violence campaigns that target anti-social macho culture. We’re talking about penalizing venues that do the wrong thing, and rewarding those that do the right thing,” he explained.
“We also want to stamp out violence entirely, after all we are the ones that will be going out and enjoying safer streets.” he added. “The idea that you can fix violence by just locking people out (of bars) is an outrage.”