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Banning orders won’t solve alcohol-fuelled violence – but they can be part of the solution

In Queensland, police can issue on-the-spot ten-day banning orders to patrons who engage in violent or anti-social behaviour in and around licensed venues. AAP/Dan Peled

Banning orders won’t solve alcohol-fuelled violence – but they can be part of the solution

The majority of initiatives introduced to tackle alcohol-related violence in Australia involve limiting alcohol service through licensing, responsible service laws, last-drinks laws, and lockouts.

The option to ban people from drinking in specific premises has always rested with operators and different states’ liquor licensing laws. But several states currently use police banning orders, which focus on offending patrons. Are these the answer to curbing alcohol-fuelled violence?

What are banning orders, and how prevalent are they?

Police banning orders have been used in Queensland since October 2014. They are also used in other Australian states, including New South Wales and Victoria.

In Queensland, police can issue on-the-spot ten-day banning orders to patrons who engage in violent or anti-social behaviour in and around licensed venues.

Banning orders restrict patrons from remaining in or entering:

  • public places within “safe-night precincts”;

  • stated licensed premises; and/or

  • events being held in public places where liquor will be sold.

Breaching a banning order in Queensland can result in fines of up to A$7,314. Repeat offenders or those involved in serious incidents can be issued with an extended banning order of up to three months.

The aim of police banning orders is to deter and reduce violence and anti-social behaviour through immediate expulsion from night-time entertainment precincts and licensed venues.

In 2016, 3,936 people were issued ten-day banning orders across the 15 safe-night precincts in Queensland, according to the Queensland Police Service. These are key entertainment districts across the state that are managed by a board of local venue owners and businesses.

On average, 74 patrons were excluded from safe-night precincts each week. In the Fortitude Valley safe-night precinct alone, police issued 1,057 banning orders in 2016 – an average of 20 per week.

An additional 1,104 people were issued extended banning orders across Queensland. This is an average of 21 per week.

Police banning orders have some potential to minimise harm from violent, intoxicated patrons and prevent more serious criminal charges. But their effectiveness is largely reliant on the ability of police and licensed venue staff to accurately identify banned individuals and enforce the orders.

Can ID scanning help?

We don’t have good evidence for the effectiveness of banning orders. But the introduction of the networked ID scanning system in Queensland’s safe-night precincts could improve the efficacy of police banning orders by facilitating strict enforcement of temporary exclusions and minimising harm from violent, intoxicated offenders.

As of July 1, 2017, licensed venues that are approved to trade 12 midnight in Queensland’s safe-night precincts will be required to a operate a networked ID scanner.

Network ID scanning is expected to provide these licensees with a useful tool to increase safety inside their premises, and also prevent repeat offending – at least within the specific precinct – while the order is in place. The approved third-party operator of the networked ID scanners will store the data and must ensure that it is deleted after 30 days. All parties are subject to privacy regulations.

A similar, voluntary ID scanning system has been operating in the Victorian city of Geelong since 2007. There is no evidence the system has directly reduced violence in the area. But many licensees felt the system was a cost-effective way to promote social order inside their venues.

Proceed with caution

Banning orders can encourage personal responsibility, hold unruly patrons accountable, and provide a way for police to demonstrate that anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated at night.

However, heavy reliance and investment in bans and scanners should be done with caution – and an awareness of the potential consequences.

Police in Queensland have considerable discretion in determining whether to implement a ban or arrest and charge an offending individual within safe-night precincts. Judicial oversight is retained only in the case of longer bans of three months of more. So, these bans may lead to selective targeting of particular types of “troublemakers”.

There is also a potential for banning orders to merely relocate offenders to suburban pubs and smaller bars outside safe-night precincts.

As a result, banning orders and ID scanning networks must be considered as two steps toward targeted deterrence, with a need for greater emphasis on facilitating behavioural change among problematic patrons.

Considering the available evidence that suggests these individuals are often frequent clubbers, heavy drinkers and repeat violent offenders in the night-time economy, short bans may have a limited deterrence effect with regard to future offending.

And while banning orders seek to remove problematic individuals from places where they are most likely to cause harm to others, they do not tackle unsafe drinking practices or tackle a national drinking culture in which alcohol is often consumed solely for the purpose of becoming intoxicated.

To better tackle these underlying factors, banning orders could be used to identify individuals who would benefit from treatment intervention strategies for aggression, violence and/or substance abuse.

Repeat offenders should be required to undertake a brief intervention regime of three sessions of alcohol/aggression education – similar to that undertaken by second- and third-time cannabis offenders.

Finally, there is a clear need for rigorous evaluation and potential experimentation of banning and scanning processes and outcomes to establish best practice, and maximise the potential for positive health and justice outcomes.