How can we stop alcohol-fuelled violence?

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Victorians might mock Sydney’s new lockout laws, which force bars to close their doors by 1.30am and serve last drinks by 3am, but are they a reasonable measure in the prevention of alcohol-fuelled deaths? When 19-year-old Patrick Cronin died this month after a violent pub brawl in Diamond Creek, the issue of drunken abuse and how to curb it is again up for debate.

Many advocates for city nightlife, such as those behind the Keep Sydney Open campaign, argue they shouldn’t be punished for the poor behaviour of others. Deakin University’s Peter Miller, Professor of Violence Prevention and Addiction Studies, has completed comprehensive research into Australia’s drug and alcohol abuse cultures and says Patrick Cronin’s death is an unfortunate reminder of a significant ongoing issue in our society. ‘Sadly, this is one of the more than 5000 alcohol-related deaths that occur every year, and hopefully we can learn some more lessons,’ Prof. Miller says. He adds, ‘It reminds us of the harms we see in the relationship between sporting clubs and alcohol, and alcohol and licensed venues more generally.’

'Sadly, this is one of the more than 5000 alcohol-related deaths that occur every year'

Professor Peter Miller,
Violence Prevention and Addiction Studies, Deakin University

Prioritising Melbourne’s reputation as a city with an enviable nightlife, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has not placed restrictions on local venues or buckled to pressure from other states. Queensland however will follow Sydney’s lead, implementing a 1am lockout and 3am last drinks program in its entertainment precincts from February 2017.

Rather than setting lockout times, some commentators suggest we need to take a look at a time-honoured Australian tradition – binge drinking. Alcohol abuse costs our economy billions each year and a quarter of Australians report being a victim of an alcohol-related incident each year. Mythologising drinkers like David Boon, Bob Hawke and Paul Hogan, Australia has created a culture where getting drunk is encouraged as a rite of passage for many young people. A few years ago university student Joshua Blake wrote an impassioned article on his experience of binge drinking, suggesting it was time Australia dropped heavy drinking from its national identity.

Cities such as London and Amsterdam aren’t immune to violence, but have selected alternative methods of managing nightlife without sending in the fun police. In Amsterdam, dedicated ‘Night Mayor’ Mirik Milan is committed to understanding the city’s nightlife and making recommendations accordingly. The nightlife industry in London is an essential part of the city’s economy. It’s worth approximately $134 billion Australian dollars. That’s not to say that there’s no violence there. But instead of stifling an important aspect of the city’s culture, London has introduced the West End Impact Zone, where officers patrol problem streets and encourage patrons to get home safely, no matter the time. Similar tactics have been taken in New York City.

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Should we implement lockout laws in Victoria?

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Professor Peter Miller
Professor Peter Miller

Violence Prevention and Addiction Studies, School of Psychology, Deakin University
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