Newcastle University academic Tony Brown claimed in the Newcastle Herald (26/5), that population-wide measures such as lockout laws, reducing the number of bottle shops and minimum unit pricing (MUP) were proven measures in reducing both domestic and non-domestic related violence.
There is a problem with that perspective. For example, since the introduction of MUP in the Northern Territory, people are actually drinking slightly more, at reduced rates of harm.
Could it be that other factors are at play that aren't in alignment with a prohibitionist agenda? I don't think it's a coincidence that the NT government introduced more practical measures to directly address alcohol-related harms over the same period, including a banned drinker register and the expansion of police auxiliary liquor inspections in regional centres outside of Darwin.
The manipulation of statistics, such as we've seen with MUP, and wilful ignorance of the real drivers of alcohol-related harm is very dangerous because it confuses the community and diverts policy makers' attention away from measures that can be highly effective in reducing antisocial and violent behaviour.
At the heart of these activists' ideology is the myth that alcohol consumption, by itself, fuels violence. If this were true, we could expect to see a high level of violence in pubs and clubs throughout the country. However, a 2014 paper by Data Analytics Australia, How often does a night out lead to an assault? that analysed both reported and estimated assaults on drinking occasions, concluded that only 0.11 per cent of 'nights out' involved assaults. Put another way, 99.89 per cent of drinking occasions in the night-time economy were violence-free.
Wilful ignorance of the real drivers of alcohol-related harm is very dangerous.
Of course, if you or a loved one is the victim of violence, the fact that the risk of such an occurrence is actually very low is of no comfort. As a society, we absolutely should seek to build a culture that seeks to eradicate violence, whether that is in our streets or, buried in our homes. We do ourselves a real disservice by presuming that punitive measures that reduce per capita consumption throughout the population will lead to less violence. It is true that highly aggressive and violent men tend to drink heavily and frequently. They often consume other drugs too. Police often say that repeat offenders are likely to be committing the majority of assaults. If true, this should have huge implications for how we go about reducing violence.
For example, much is made of the of Newcastle's 2008 lockout laws and their role in reducing violent crime. Similar laws were introduced in Geelong and Melbourne but did not have the same impact and were scrapped. Yet the success of the Newcastle model was held up as justification for Sydney's lockout laws in 2014. Was the reduction in violent crime in Newcastle really a product of the lockout laws or were other factors again at play?
In a report on the reforms, City of Newcastle details measures that were introduced to try to reduce violence and antisocial behaviour. The most surprising revelation was that the biggest decrease in non-domestic 'alcohol related' assaults - more than 20 per cent - occurred in 2011-12, a full three years after licensing restrictions were introduced in the city.
Anthropologist Dr Anne Fox visited Newcastle as part of a national study commissioned by Lion, to understand the drivers of antisocial behaviour in Australia's night-time economy and interviewed a police superintendent. His explanation? "Five per cent of the population causes 90 per cent of the problem ... our bail compliance checks have gone up from 40 to 400 a month."
So, it appears that the targeting of those whose bail or probation provisions involved a curfew, primarily men with a history of violence, did a much better job in reducing violence than licensing restrictions. While the Newcastle City report didn't deal with domestic violence, it may well be that these increased bail compliance checks also helped reduce instances of domestic violence.
I am not arguing against a community's right to introduce restrictions on the operation of licensed premises. What I am pointing out is that before considering measures that impose economic hardship on small businesses, job losses and restrictions on personal freedom, we should first examine the effectiveness of measures that target the perpetrators of violence and those others who engage in antisocial behaviours.
Of course, that is not an approach that would be welcomed by those whose ideology leads them to reject that we can significantly reduce violence, and other harms, without higher alcohol prices and more onerous restrictions on its availability.