Crimes and Other Legislation Amendment (Assault and Intoxication) Bill

Crimes and Other Legislation Amendment (Assault and Intoxication) Bill

(Liquor Amendment Bill, 30 January 2014, Legislative Assembly NSW Parliament)

In response to community calls the Government has taken decisive action to address alcohol-fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour and I acknowledge this response to what is a serious community problem.

However, I do not support this bill and remain deeply concerned that many of its proposals are reactive and will create new problems and impacts.

I feel strongly for the friends and families of victims of violence associated with late night hot spots. They demand action to prevent more violence and much of the community has shared their distress and anger and supported calls for action.

It is our job here to ensure that the response is the right one, that it is evidence-based, and that it is in line with what experts tell us will stop future death, injury and suffering. Being merely seen to do something – to be seen as tough – is not helpful and will only reignite community anger and frustration when problems persist and unintended consequences hurt others.

We are being inundated with conflicting information and opinions, with media campaigns vying to find a new angle or incident.

Amongst other things, we are told that average alcohol use is declining but increasing for binge drinkers; that Kings Cross venues are safer than ever but that violent attacks on the streets are increasing; that the cause of problems lies with steroid and methamphetamine use, pre-fuelling, social media, poor fathering and bikie culture.

We are told that Newcastle experienced a drop in alcohol associated violence in the year that followed introduction of lockouts and early closures, but a year later violence increased.

Last year I gave notice of motion to establish a select committee to assess the information, and report back with evidence-based recommendations. This would be more productive than the rushed process without consultation unfolding today. Many members have expressed support for the inquiry and I will seek to establish it when we return.

I am not confident that we have properly assessed the evidence and come up with the right solution.

This is a complex problem that needs to be addressed on multiple levels including licensing, enforcement, pricing, policing, transport, advertising, education and culture. The Government has released a package that ticks off many of these boxes, but has not provided the evidence that each is the right response. I acknowledge that the government is taking this issue seriously, and this commitment must include a review within six months to gauge effectiveness and impacts. 

The Crimes and Other Legislation Amendment (Assault and Intoxication) Bill creates a new separate offence where someone intentionally hits – be it a punch, push, kick or shove – another person and that hit results in death. The person does not have to reasonably foresee that the hit would have resulted in death. The offence incurs a maximum penalty of 20 years unless the person was intoxicated at the time, for which the maximum will be 25 years.

While I am not convinced this new separate offence is necessary given in such cases someone can be charged with manslaughter, it is the inclusion of a mandatory minimum sentence of eight years in cases of intoxication which alarms me.

Mandatory minimum sentences defy justice, fairness and logic.

They do nothing to stop violent alcohol related attacks, with ample evidence showing offenders do not consider the consequences of their actions when they are intoxicated.

The government claims mandatory sentences are necessary because current sentencing fails to reflect community values but it has not provided a broad range of examples to prove its case, nor has it referred the matter to the NSW Sentencing Council.

The Bar Association, which opposes mandatory sentences, has provided a number of possible one-punch scenarios and I would like to place some on record.

A young man who suffers an extremely disadvantaged childhood at the hands of his violent and abusive father gets drunk at 20 and confronts his father, punching him once, which kills him. He is extremely remorseful, gives up alcohol and wants to help other abused children. Eight years for this man.

The high profile one-coward-punch situations we have heard about recently are awful but there is an array of circumstances where I believe the community would accept a sentence lower than the proposed minimum.

Judges are given the responsibility of sentencing so that all relevant circumstances of each case can be taken into account. Mandatory minimum sentences are a one-size-fits-all approach that will not work.

The separation of powers is central our justice system and MPs should not act as judges.

Offenders are unlikely to plead guilty where minimum sentences are set.

I understand the minimum sentences for one-punch manslaughter cases will create an anomaly in the courts, with intoxicated offenders who unintentionally kill someone with a single punch potentially receiving higher or equal sentences to offenders who deliberately intend to kill someone but are found guilty of manslaughter due to a defence such as provocation.

The bill could result in the long term incarceration of first time offenders where they will likely develop links to organised crime, while nothing is done to address the cause of their violence or enable rehabilitation. 

The Liquor Amendment Bill introduces a number of changes to licensing including 1.30 am lockouts and 3.00 am closures within a newly created Sydney CBD entertainment precinct.

There is community support for reducing the hours that alcohol is available, but there is not uniform support for the approach or the hours proposed.

A large part of the community, particularly young people, people who go out and many in the LGBTI community say the proposals are unfair and will destroy Sydney’s vibrant going out scene. There is ongoing concern about impacts on Sydney’s live music culture and these proposals could further impact on the future of live music. 

Within just a few days over 11,000 people have shown their opposition on social media.

The vast majority of people who go out late at night to drink, dance, talk, and see bands and shows, do so without any violence. Those who have contacted me say it’s not Parliament’s job to tell them what time to go to bed. Members need to acknowledge that there is nothing wrong with young people wanting to go out into the early morning.

Late night venues can foster culture and sub-cultures. They promote ‘scenes’ based on music styles, art, fashion and dance. People can establish strong social ties with the people they go out with. Young visitors to a city often judge the social fabric of a place by the bars and night spots.  Some LGBTI people tell me how gay clubs are among the few places they feel safe expressing themselves.

I’m concerned about the impact the lockouts will have on future Mardi Gras, Vivid and other major events and festivals. Large numbers of international and interstate tourists visit Sydney during our festival seasons, and forcing large numbers of guests on to the street is bad for tourism and could increase police and transport burdens.

I have proposed to the Minister for Tourism, Major Events, Hospitality and Racing that consideration be given to allow venues associated with hallmark events determined by Destination NSW and in consultation with local Police Commands and councils to apply for trading hour extensions. I appreciate the Minister’s willingness to discuss this further.

Members have no right to say that no-one needs to be out after 3.00 am. Sure, no-one needs to, but it is not a crime to want to and not our call to say whether people should or should not.

I sympathise with those people who have done nothing wrong, but will be impacted by this bill.

I acknowledge that sometimes individual rights must be compromised to protect the common good, but we must aim to strike the right balance.

Unfortunately the debate has been polarised into the ‘wowsers’ versus the ‘fun seekers’. The issue is more complex and we need to reframe the debate. ’Enough is enough’ mantras from both government and opposition members have not been helpful and only lead many to believe Parliament’s response is mere moral panic.

We have to take young people on this journey. We have to explain Parliament’s duty to prevent deaths and reduce injury and hospitalisation, and provide the facts on violence associated with alcohol beyond the high profile cases. 

Lockouts and early closures could be a part of the solution, but should only be introduced after detailed consideration based on evidence and only on a trial basis. Times should not just mimic those used in one model, but should reflect the unique situation of Sydney. Sydney is very different to Newcastle: it is bigger with thousands of venues and late night options.

Closing times for Sydney should not clash with taxi changeover. If lockouts are used they should reflect times that prevent conflicts in queues and rushes to larger late night venues.

Smaller operators that close early say fewer people will go to their venues because they risk being stranded if they don’t get into the doors of a larger venue that closes late. I share concern that 1.30 am is too early for the lockout.

In devising this bill, the government should have worked closely with managers of well-run venues to establish a model for a safe and vibrant late night economy. Understandably operators of good venues are angry that they are being treated the same as poorly run venues. They rightly point out that many performers, djs, promoters and bar staff risk losing their jobs. This will also impact on the city’s creativity. 

The boundaries used seem arbitrary and fail to take into account impacts on adjacent areas.

I am alarmed that the casino in Pyrmont will be exempt – as is now often the case the casino gets special treatment. (Ridiculously people will be allowed to get drunk gambling their savings at the casino but not have a light beer and watch a drag show!)

Pyrmont could become a new site of alcohol related violence. Residents of Chippendale and Ultimo are concerned about displacement to Broadway. Surry Hills residents are concerned about displacement to Crown Street and outside the boundary. Paddington residents are concerned about late night problems moving to them.

Some say the model will create conflict because large numbers of people will end up on the street at the same time needing to get home. There is no detail on whether additional police will be allocated on the streets at closing time and no proposals on changing taxi changeover times.

I am concerned that the proposals will result in a proliferation of illegal parties where RSA is unlikely to be adhered to. Late night house parties could become common, causing regular impacts for neighbours.

Late night drinking in backpacker hostels is a big problem in my electorate particularly in Kings Cross. I am concerned late night revellers will join backpackers after being made to leave well-run venues with CCTV and RSA and make noise and problems in hostels.

The Government will review the provisions in two years but this is too long and I request an independent review within six months with a report back to Parliament.

The Kings Cross Licensing Accord has raised concerns that Kings Cross venues will continue to be subject to stringent conditions under the Kings Cross Plan of Management including ID scanners on top of lockouts and early closures yet other areas in the wider Sydney CBD Entertainment Precinct will not. Kings Cross venue operators believe the whole precinct should be subject to the same conditions.

The Potts Point Business Partnership has raised concerns about the impact on small businesses that are not the cause of alcohol-related violence but will be tarred with the same brush. There are already media reports of businesses moving out of the area to escape the changes and the association of violence.

I have lived in Kings Cross for five years. Reports of small businesses experiencing downturn concern me. Kings Cross is vibrant, welcoming, safe, and a great place to live. Many young families have recently moved in and enjoy the area.

Some aspects of the Government’s package that have broad support include late night transport, with free buses every 10 minutes between Kings Cross and the CBD. This is a big improvement over the current half hour services which are not regular or obvious enough to provide a real transport option. While better transport is welcome, I continue to call for late night trains to provide a real transport option across Sydney.

I support extension of the liquor freeze within the new CBD entertainment precinct. Saturation of venues is connected to alcohol associated violence and the inner city will benefit from two more years reprieve from expanded premises.

Plans for risk-based licensing will help target poorly run venues and is similar to the permit licensing system I have repeatedly called for, which requires licensees to reapply for a licence, encouraging good management.

Australia needs to address its relationship with alcohol and binge drinking and stop the violence. While I support the announced community education campaign, it must change behaviour, not just give information. We need education in school and we need a broader discussion about violence in our community, including domestic/family violence. 

This is not a new problem. It is unfortunate that governments in the past have failed to heed calls for action on alcohol-fuelled violence. I acknowledge that the Government is now attempting to address a very complex problem in the face of community demands for prompt action but we need the right solution not the right now solution.

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