Upper House MP Mark Latham has defended the absence of health professionals on his committee overseeing a trial of relaxed liquor laws in Newcastle, arguing police representatives will ensure public safety is a priority.
Mr Latham chaired the committee's first meeting at City Hall on Tuesday after Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello made a surprise visit to Newcastle 12 days earlier to meet business and alcohol industry representatives, police and local politicians to discuss relaxing the city's late-night trading restrictions.
He later announced Mr Latham would chair a committee to guide a trial of relaxed restrictions for the city's bars and restaurants.
The move drew strong criticism from doctors and police, nurse and paramedics unions who have reported a fall in alcohol-related violence in Newcastle since the so-called lockout laws were introduced in 2008.
Mr Latham's committee includes lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes, Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp, both of whom have publicly backed looser restrictions, Police Assistant Commissioner Max Mitchell, Detective Superintendent Wayne Humphrey, Liquor & Gaming NSW and Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority representatives, council Smart City coordinator Nathaniel Bavington, Blue Kahunas bar owner Prudence Farquhar, Newcastle Tourism Industry Group treasurer Colin Law and Independent Bars Association president Karl Schlothauer.
Mr Latham said after the meeting that a working group of police, council and ILGA representatives would compile a report on a likely six-month trial of relaxed licensing rules for inner-city bars and restaurants to start "closer to the end of this year".
It is understood the trial could include allowing bars to open beyond midnight and serve cocktails past the existing 10pm limit.
The trial will not address the 1.30am hotel and nightclub lockout, but the state government is expected to review the lockout rules in January after assessing the impact of removing lockouts in Sydney's CBD.
Asked why his committee included no medical experts, Mr Latham said: "The two police officers were there, and if there's an issue at two o'clock in the morning, it's the police who are there in the front line and reporting incidents.
"The police fulfil that function, and they played a great role at the meeting, and we will always listen very closely to the advice they give us."
The One Nation MP said Newcastle bars and restaurants now operated under tighter licensing rules than hotels and nightclubs.
"If you want to get on the schooners and drink yourself silly until three in the morning and throw a few punches, then there are hotels that stay open until three," he said.
"But, if you're a more grown-up, middle-class-type person visiting Newcastle for a conference and you want to have a cocktail drink after 10pm in a responsible way, that's not possible."
Dr John Crozier, the chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' National Trauma Committee, said Mr Latham's committee would struggle to reach evidence-based conclusions about the trial without health professionals involved.
"The knowledge of the formation of this committee is pretty short notice. It smacks of a predefined outcome," he said. "It reinforces the concerns a number of reasonable people have expressed."
The Police Association of NSW would not comment on the make-up of the committee, but Newcastle branch members are expected to meet on Wednesday to pass resolutions condemning the trial.
Mr Crakanthorp said the police union and health professionals would be "pleasantly surprised" by the trial's outcome.
"I think everyone should be open to a trial. Everyone has safety at the forefront of their minds.
"People have been swept up in the lockout story. I think that is half the problem.
"The committee's priority is the safety of the community, and unless we get a safe outcome to our trial, then we won't be continuing.
"It's at the forefront of everyone's mind. No one wants to go back to 2008. The police certainly voiced their views on a safe trial, as did I, as did others."
Asked if health professionals could provide valuable evidence on the impact of the trial, Mr Crakanthorp said: "The police respond first, so we'll take it from them."
Newcastle anti-violence campaigner Tony Brown said the way the committee had been formed raised "serious transparency, integrity and probity concerns".
"The blatant exclusion of these legitimate stakeholders from any say in the controversial process is cowardly," he said.
"It belies the shambolic way the committee has be formed and may likely operate."
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