Sydney's last drinks and lockout laws are working

Tony Sara 

Almost four years ago, 18-year-old Daniel Christie was out with his brother and mates in Kings Cross to celebrate New Year. At 9pm a drunken man attacked the group from behind, on the street, beating the teenagers in a savage senseless attack that took just 90 seconds. For 11 days Daniel lay in a coma fighting for his young life until his tragic death. Later in court his father described his pain, torment and overwhelming loss. He told the court he was worried especially for Daniel's brother who was left forever with the memory of his brother's attack – "the sound of his skull cracking … the smell of blood oozing from his wounds".
This terrible loss was the tipping point for a grieving community, which just the year before had seen young Thomas Kelly, also 18, lose his life in a similar unprovoked attack. In the wake of these tragedies the NSW government legislated much needed laws – "the lockout laws" – that have helped stem some of the violence. Those laws are working. Sydney's streets are safer. But the endless pressure of a public that fears being more boring than Melbourne, left the government weak at the knees.
Last week the state government announced the first venues to gain an exemption under the two-year trial relaxation of the lockout laws – a later 2am lockout and 3.30am last drinks allowed via exemption for venues that offer live entertainment, with bottle shops to close at 11pm.
As a coalition of first-line responders, who tend to those broken bodies, and work in harm's way ourselves, we are very concerned about the effect of the changes. Evidence shows the softening of the lockout laws will precipitate an escalation of violence. We know that tragically more people could die, because public pressure for nightlife has outweighed the evidence the laws are saving lives and reducing violence.
In June last year the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics Research reported that Kings Cross had seen a 59.2 per cent decrease in assaults between 6pm and 1.30am and a 93.9 per cent decrease between 3am and 6am. These staggering results confirmed that the laws had finally succeeded in stemming the alcohol-fuelled violence that poured through our bloodstained streets.
Perhaps we've become complacent because the lockout laws are working – our streets are safer. But before the lockouts Kings Cross was a horrifyingly dangerous place. Before the tragic deaths of Thomas and Daniel spurred the NSW government into action in 2014, Kings Cross was experiencing up to 40 assaults per month. In a one-year period, emergency staff at St Vincent's hospital could expect up to 26 patients to be admitted between 8pm and 8am with serious head injuries. Every Friday and Saturday night police were forced to bring up to 40 additional general duty officers to make dozens of arrests, and emergency departments would fill with casualties. Nights out were hemmed in with violence. Fists and blood flowed and we, the front-line emergency responders, saw it all. This was the shocking standard Sydney had come to accept.
As an answer the lockout laws have worked, Sydney is safer. Shortly after they were introduced, assaults in Kings Cross fell to below 20 per month and the number of patients admitted with serious head injuries at St Vincent's fell by 50 per cent. It was a life-saving miracle in the form of clever regulation and strong government leadership. Read more on the Sydney Morning Herald website >>


Dr Tony Sara is the spokesperson for the Last Drinks Coalition, comprised of the police, doctors, paramedics, nurses and health workers.

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