Forum promised action on Kings Cross
It was standing room only at a public forum at Town Hall held last night to discuss ways to curb alcohol-fuelled violence on the streets of Kings Cross, with the NSW Government announcing an immediate compliance audit of all 58 late-trading licensed premises in the precinct.
Hospitality Minister George Souris told the audience of more than 600 people that over the next four days inspectors with the Office of Gaming and Racing would speak with all licensees in the area to check the effectiveness of security, CCTV coverage, as well as each venue’s responsible service of alcohol register and log of alcohol-related incidents.
“That has commenced this evening at 6pm and will be undertaken over ensuing days,” Souris told the meeting.
The forum, held in the wake of the recent unprovoked killing of 18-year-old Bowral local Thomas Kelly on what was his first ever visit to the famous entertainment strip, was informed the NSW Government would now co-ordinate a precinct management plan to be overseen by the Premier’s Department.
The audience also heard from other panel members, including the likes of local Wentworth MP Malcolm Turnbull, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Murdoch, Australian Hotels Association CEO Paul Nicolaou and Don Weatherburn, the director of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.
All panel members pointed to a lack of transport in Kings Cross on Friday and Saturday nights as a key factor for anti-social behaviour, while there was also agreement among many that were simply too many venues in Kings Cross open for too many hours per day.
“I’m going to cut straight to the chase and not muck around – it’s the abuse and availability of alcohol ... and that is the problem,” Murdoch said to loud applause.
“Drugs is not the problem in Kings Cross ... alcohol’s the problem.”
Moore said changes to planning laws by state and federal governments over a number of years had withered away the City of Sydney’s power to block the development of large drinking establishments in the Kings Cross area.
“We need to bite the bullet and admit that there are too many venues,” Moore said.
Moore suggested Sydney follow the lead of other cities such as New York, Amsterdam or Paris where venues are obliged to renew their licenses every year or two.
“If you’re not up to standard you don’t get that renewal,” she said.
Turnbull called for evidence-based policies to help deal with the issues, saying he was accused of being “melodramatic” only a few months ago when he described Kings Cross like a “warzone” on Friday and Saturday nights.
“If you wanted to attract large numbers of drunk people to one location, the conditions in Kings Cross are ideal,” he said.
“We need to pay much more attention to the police and emergency services and what they are saying.”
Weatherburn said while more assaults were recorded in other parts of Sydney such as Blacktown, what made Kings Cross stand out was the concentration of assaults in such a small number of streets and their timing.
More than half of all assaults recorded for the Kings Cross area take place between 9pm and 3am on Friday and Saturday nights, with three quarters of the violence occurring on just four streets, including Darlinghurst and Bayswater roads and a third occurring on licensed premises.
“We estimate that it’s costing St Vincent’s Hospital emergency department about $1.6 million per year,” Weatherburn said. “And that doesn’t include any in-patient care.”
Weatherburn said he had no doubt a 1am lockout of pubs and clubs in Kings Cross similar to that recently introduced in Newcastle would drive down violence.
Nicolaou was however met with derision from large sections of the crowd when he insisted a lack of personal responsibility as well as high levels of drug use were to blame for the current problems afflicting Kings Cross.
“It seems that the community, our society, thinks that violence is an acceptable act and it’s OK to be violent,” Nicolaou said while calling for New York-style zero tolerance laws.
Towards the end of the forum, a close friend of the Kelly family, David Anstee, fought back tears as he pleaded with Souris to initiate a campaign educating young people about the risks of late night binge drinking.
“The prevailing attitude is that it’s cool to do shots all night and it’s very uncool not to be out clubbing,” Anstee said. “The big … issue here is responsible drinking.”
Souris promised he would speak with Health Minister Jillian Skinner about the proposal.
Moore also announced today a follow-up forum will take place in six months time.