A police blitz in Sydney targeting alcohol-fueled behaviour. Photo: Steve Lunam The NSW government pulled out of a state election forum on alcohol policy, raising concerns about its continued commitment to the battle against alcohol-fuelled violence.
Shanghai night field

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education said the government’s withdrawal 24 hours before the forum on Thursday night raised questions about its future commitment to alcohol policy.

The ALP, Greens and Christian Democratic Party sent represenatives to speak at the NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance forum in Sydney, which was held to provide the community with the views of political parties on alcohol policy.

NSW Police Association president Scott Weber told the forum that the NSW government’s lockout laws had been successful in reducing alcohol-related violence in Sydney’s central business district. He said data from St Vincent’s Hospital showed a significant reduction in intensive care admissions related to alcohol-fuelled assaults since the laws were introduced in February last year.

But just months before the March 28 NSW election, the Baird government announced in January that it would  rethink lockout laws that have helped drive down assaults at Sydney nightspots, prompting suggestions it has buckled to pressure from the powerful alcohol lobby.

Premier Mike Baird later said he did  not intend to alter lockout laws at Sydney nightspots, following controversy that erupted after his deputy Troy Grant said revisions would be considered.

Pubs and clubs say they have suffered a severe downturn in trade and the stringent laws should be reassessed before more damage is done.

The government last year introduced 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks laws across the new Sydney CBD entertainment precinct which covers parts of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst to The Rocks, and from Kings Cross to Cockle Bay. A state-wide ban on takeaway alcohol sales after 10pm was also introduced.

The alcohol-sale restrictions were introduced after the one-punch deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie triggered a community outcry. The changes were due to be reviewed after two years.

Foundation of Alcohol Research and Education director of policy and research Caterina Giorgi said the government’s failure to attend the forum on Thursday night was “extremely disappointing”.

“The NSW government’s failure to attend tonight’s alcohol policy election forum and it’s unwillingness to find a single one of its 80 members of Parliament to represent the Coalition at tonight’s event suggests alcohol policy is not a priority for the government ahead of this month’s election,” Ms Giorgi said.

“New South Wales voters have a right to know what the major parties intend to do to address alcohol harms – 71 per cent of NSW residents think more should be done to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, and tonight is an opportunity for NSW politicians to stand up and speak up on this issue.”

Christian Democratic Party president Fred Nile said he feared the Liberal government would scrap the lockout laws which he said should be extended across NSW. Mr Nile has also called for restrictions on alcohol advertising and for the legal drinking age to be increased to 21.

Greens MP John Kaye said his party, which has opposed the lockout laws as a knee jerk response, would not ignore data from St Vincent’s Hospital suggesting a reduction in alcohol-fuelled assaults since the introduction of the new legislation, despite previous opposition to lockout laws.

ALP MP Sophie Cotsis told the forum that, if elected, a Foley Labor government would spend $1.2 million to secure the future of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder diagnostic clinic at Westmead.

The Westmead clinic is one of only two centres with a focus on diagnosis of the syndrome, but its future funding is due to expire in June. One in five women continue to consume alcohol after becoming aware of their pregnancy.

Dr Kaye and Reverend Nile said they supported NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance’s call for a community defender’s office to work with local residents in campaigning against liquor licence applications.