Lockout laws don't stop crime. They send it elsewhere

I’m one of the many “yanks” who left their native United States for the shores of Sydney.

Although most Australians think of us as the “land of the free”, many American states impose even stricter restrictions on licensed venues than those of Sydney’s lockout laws.

But if there’s any lesson to be learned here, it’s the NSW government should take the opposite route and revive Sydney’s once-thriving night-life by abolishing the lockout laws.

The American experience shows what little effect such restrictions have on alcohol-fuelled violence.

In most US states Americans are sent home from bars and clubs at 2am. Unless you are celebrating mardi gras in Louisiana, do not expect to stay out all night.

Unlike Sydney’s Kings Cross, patrons of American bars are not allowed to remain at the bar after the doors have been locked and, in most cases, are not even permitted to finish their drinks. Despite these restrictions, alcohol fuelled violence in the US is no better than in Australia.

There is little difference between Australia and the US in the percentage of alcohol-related homicides. Strict “last call” laws in the US have failed to decrease murder rates.

The NSW government should keep this in mind since Sydney’s lockouts were originally triggered by a fatal assault in Kings Cross.

According to report Drinking Over the Life Span: Issues of Biology, Behavior, and Risk, 40 per cent of all violent offences in the US involve alcohol, a figure that isn’t much different from Australia. However, we need to remember that alcohol does not cause crimes.

Most of us have consumed alcohol and some of us have woken to regret how much we consumed the night before. But incredibly, few of us have thrown deadly drunken punches.

Criminals don’t need an excuse for their violent actions and according to Dr Anne Fox in her study into behaviour associated with night-time economies, there’s evidence that policy associating drinking with violence implicitly promotes irresponsible behaviour by presenting alcohol as a “license to transgress” from otherwise standard social norms.

While nearly half of Arkansas prohibits the sale of alcohol entirely, the state still has 555 incidents of rape, robbery, aggravated assault and homicide per 100,000 people: well above the US average.

There’s no correlation between states with a higher percentage of adults reporting excessive drinking and violent crime incidence.

In Australia, lockout laws restricting patrons from entering bars after 1:30am and ending the sale of alcohol at 3am, have decreased non-domestic assaults in Kings Cross and Sydney’s CBD Entertainment Precincts. However, the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research found assault rates in the Kings Cross precinct had been decreasing for six years before the introduction of lockout laws.

Stopping responsible adults from consuming alcohol when they wish does not end criminal activity. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

The rest of NSW has seen an increase of as much as 17 per cent in non-domestic assaults, particularly in the suburbs surrounding the lockout areas and in alternative entertainment zones such as Bondi Beach, Coogee Bay, and Newtown.

Instead of supporting an existing trend in reduced crime, the lockouts simply pushed crime outwards.

In fact, given a 40 per cent decrease in foot traffic, assaults per capita have actually increased in the area by 450 per cent and businesses have been damaged.

According to the World Bar’s management estimate, lockout laws caused revenue to drop by as much as a quarter between 2014 and 2016. Many bars, already struggling under burdensome alcohol taxes and immense red tape, could no longer make ends meet and closed. This will continue unless lockouts are abolished.

The first thing most bar patrons do when they enter an establishment is buy a drink. By stopping new people from coming into bars, the government is robbing these small businesses of those initial drink purchases.

As Alan Jones put it, the government made a “knee jerk reaction to the tragic death of a young man,” and this has harmed local businesses.

Do-gooders in governments here and overseas attempt to protect us from every possible danger with impulsive reactionary policy. But all they have to show for their ideas is proof of how out-of-touch and ineffective they are.

People should be able to decide at what time they want to go for a beer, how many beers they would like to have, and if they prefer a super dry martini with extra olives instead of beer. Some people like a VB at 10pm, some at 10am and some after lockout at 2am.

It’s not the job of the first two groups to regulate the third. Ironically, taking objection to other people’s choices which don’t concern us is a leading cause of bar brawls.

Regulating when individuals can consume alcohol does little to improve overall alcohol related crime. Every US state has its share of violent crime associated with intoxication. Even those which shut down alcohol sales as early as 12am.

Locking the bar door doesn’t fix the problem. Stopping responsible adults from consuming alcohol when they wish does not end criminal activity.

The government has no mandate to tell you when it’s your bedtime.

This article appeared in the News Corp Australia Network on 6 June 2019.

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