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Early pub closing times work for Kings Cross – they will for Queensland too

Early closing times reduce alcohol-fuelled violence but still face opposition from businesses. Bruno Girin/Flickr, CC BY-SA

The newly elected Queensland government has said it will push ahead with its plan to introduce lockouts and 3am closing times for pubs and clubs. Despite objections from vested interests, there’s now plenty of evidence to show this is a good idea for patrons and businesses alike.

Just 12 months after they were introduced, early closing times for pubs and clubs in central Sydney have caused a massive decline in crime throughout the previously violence-ridden Sydney suburb of Kings Cross. NSW Police data reported in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph last week illustrates the impact of trading hours restrictions in King Cross after 12 months. It shows:

  • sexual assaults in the area are down by 20.8%
  • assaults causing grievous bodily harm are down by 43%
  • assaults causing actual bodily harm have declined by 50.3%
  • robberies have fallen by a huge 57.1%
  • car theft is down by 44.6%, and
  • stealing from motor vehicles is down by 47.5%.

Probably the most important gain – and one that’s not mentioned above – is the one highlighted by Kings Cross local area commander Superintendent Mick Fitzgerald:

The man hours saved and the way we are able to reallocate our resources has been phenomenal.

Many state governments in Australia expend massive resources on extra policing to effectively subsidise late-night venues by facilitating people drinking between 3am and 7am (despite the fact that around 80% of the population want pubs shut at 3am). But police in Kings Cross are now able to use their time dealing with criminal activity.

Compelling arguments

The state of Kings Cross a year on provides clear support for the newly elected Queensland government’s proposal but, not unexpectedly, industry groups are critical of the idea. They argue “anti-social behaviour is a cultural problem, not an operational one” and that the proposal will have a negative impact on the economy as well as worsening “law and order issues surrounding entertainment zones”.

The experience of Kings Cross has already proven them wrong about the latter point. And the seven years since similar measures were introduced in Newcastle provide the other nails in the coffin of that argument.

Lockouts and closing times mean police can spend less resources on drunk and disorderlies. April Fonti/AAP

The story from Newcastle is that you can change drinking culture and businesses don’t have to suffer. There are now almost 50% more liquor licences in Newcastle than there were in 2008 when the original 3am close was put in place. And the new venues are mostly small bars and restaurants.

In research my colleagues and I did to explore what measures were effective for reducing alcohol-related harm, we compared Newcastle, with its blanket 3am closing time, to Geelong, where pubs could stay open until 7am. We found people were actually spending more money, on average, in Newcastle.

Venue operators in Newcastle didn’t mind going home earlier, particularly once they adapted their business models to focus on alternative forms of entertainment and especially providing meals. These venues are now thriving and have very low levels of alcohol-related assaults and emergency department attendances.

While we don’t have Australian data on how much money changes hands in the night-time economy, UK studies show only 20% of sales made between 6pm and 6am occur after midnight. When you consider how busy most pubs are between midnight and 2am, it seems unlikely that closing times at 3am, when crowds have dwindled, will have a significant impact on business bottom lines.

A better culture

Many licensees in Newcastle were ultimately glad to have legislation put into place, because previously there was always a rogue or desperate trader who wanted to open later. The legislation meant everyone was competing on a level playing field.

According to my count in Geelong, where no restrictions are in place, 19 licensed businesses have gone broke in the past six years.

While elements of the alcohol industry oppose earlier closing, they don’t provide any evidence to support their arguments. If they considered the benefits this will bring to individual businesses, they would support closing pubs earlier and begin planning to build their businesses on a different drinking culture – a culture that encourages people to go out earlier, eat more and pre-load less, rather than one that’s all about fuelling drunken patrons to dangerous levels.

The evidence overwhelmingly supports the Queensland government’s proposed state-wide reduction of hours when alcohol is sold. The results of early closing times in Kings Cross and Newcastle show the objections of self-interested minorities are baseless, especially when considering the huge economic and social benefits seen elsewhere.

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