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Alex is committed to government transparency and accountability; protecting the natural and urban environments, open space and Sydney’s unique heritage; retaining inner city social and affordable housing; the humane treatment of animals; improving transport options; and fairness and equality for the LGBTI communities.
 

Intoxicated Persons (Sobering Up Centres Trial) Bill 2013

(Debate, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

The Intoxicated Persons (Sobering Up Centres Trial) Bill 2013 will allow for the detention of drunk revellers in a police-run sobering up centre in Sydney's central business district and for non-government centres to operate in the eastern beaches and Wollongong on a trial basis. Detention in the police-run centre will be mandatory and in the non-government centres it will be voluntary.

Binge drinking is a major concern for my constituents who live in proximity to the major nightspots of Kings Cross, Oxford Street in Darlinghurst, George Street south, the casino, the entertainment quarter and the sporting stadiums. On weekends those locations attract event-size crowds who drink heavily and often engage in antisocial behaviour and alcohol-related violence. The bill is an attempt to reduce those impacts and make the streets safer. However, I do not believe the bill adopts the right approach, and I am unable to support it.

When the Government first announced sobering up centres it claimed that they would act as a deterrent to binge drinking. But when people are seriously intoxicated their ability to understand consequences and make proper decisions is inhibited. The threat of being detained in a centre does little to prevent a venue breaching laws related to the responsible service of alcohol and continuing to serve a person who is becoming intoxicated. It does nothing to help a person get home from nightspots such as Kings Cross when many continue to drink until the trains recommence running.

The bill will incarcerate people who have not committed a crime. While it is especially concerning in the central business district, where detention will be mandatory, I also worry how an intoxicated person can make an informed decision about being detained in a voluntary centre. The bill allows people detained in centres to be forcibly searched without a warrant. I believe this is a violation of people's rights. They have not committed a crime and should not be forced to submit to being searched. Intoxication will prevent them from understanding and therefore exercising their rights, and they could be coerced into unlawful searches.

I am concerned that sobering up centres could put detainees at risk from themselves and from other detainees. If the bill is to be enforced, as the Government says, on the most intoxicated persons, I am not confident that putting these people together in a closed environment will be safe. Will we have enough individual cells? Even with individual cells, could noise and distractions from distressed detainees impact on others? I am concerned that the sobering up centres should not be used to lock up vulnerable people, including Aboriginal people, homeless people and people with a mental illness. The Minister said in his speech that they will not, and I would like the Government in its response to inform the House how it will guarantee that.

Locking up drunks is a retrograde response to binge drinking and antisocial behaviour. At a recent Kings Cross policing meeting that I attended the commander described how targeted policing over the summer, which focused on moving drunk people out of the area, had significantly reduced crime. This is a less punitive approach than locking drunk people up, but we cannot keep focusing on the consequences and expanding policing responses, because these are not solving the problem. Police do not want to spend their time and energy babysitting drunks. Most of them joined the force to prevent crime and protect the community. The Police Association believes the answer is to restrict access to alcohol in the late hours of the morning when judgement is likely to be clouded. The association wants reduced trading hours and lockouts.

So much in our society—from sports advertising to liquor licensing laws—encourages heavy drinking, but when people get carried away and drink too much the bill will see them locked up, even if they did not do anything wrong other than to be drunk. Our culture encourages getting sloshed as an ultimate aim of going out. Drinking, by its nature, impairs judgement and, once it begins, people can get caught out having one too many. We need better responsible service of alcohol enforcement to stop people getting drunk in the first place, and better transport at night so people can get home. We need to stop clustering of venues in areas that Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data shows experience violence and crime. Currently councils and the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing cannot refuse proposals based on an existing saturation of venues in an area. I look forward to the outcomes of the environmental assessment tool currently being trialled in the central business district.

Cultural change is difficult but vital to reducing the demand that drives late-night supply. Late last year I met with the founder of the Hello Sunday Morning Program, which is an online movement aimed at changing Australia's binge drinking culture. I was impressed because it does not focus on the consequences but aims to support people who want to change their drinking habits using peer support and alternative activities. Support comes from the network of people who join up and share their experiences of not drinking. The Government should look at ways to support this program and other ways to change our culture. I cannot support the bill.


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