Guest post by Rod Bogaards
The Queensland Parliament is soon to debate lockout and last drinks legislation. To achieve the objective of reducing alcohol-fueled violence the proposed Queensland legislation needs to pass two tests:
- Will it be effective in addressing the violence in entertainment precincts?
- Will it be efficient in addressing the violence in entertainment precincts?
Based on the Sydney experience, the answer to the first question is ‘probably’ and the answer to the second is ‘possibly not’.
In Sydney in January 2014, the NSW Government introduced a package of regulatory changes, including a 1:30am lockout and a 3:00am last drinks for entertainment venues in Kings Cross and the CBD.
Evidence by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows a significant reduction in assaults in Kings Cross (down 32%) and the Sydney CBD (down 26%) following the changes. Interestingly, there was little evidence that assaults were displaced to other entertainment areas or neighbouring precincts. The only exception was the Star Casino, where the number of assaults increased. However, the increase in assaults around the casino was much smaller in absolute terms than the fall in assaults in Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD.
The NSW study authors concluded:
“…the January 2014 reforms appear to have reduced the incidence of assault in the Kings Cross and CBD Entertainment Precincts. The extent to which this is due to a change in alcohol consumption or a decrease in the number of people visiting these precincts remains unknown.”
Recent research undertaken on behalf of the City of Sydney confirms that visitor numbers to the Sydney Entertainment Precincts have dropped markedly since the reforms and that more people have been going home rather than staying in entertainment venues until closing times. For example, in Kings Cross there were 58 per cent fewer pedestrians in the precinct at 11pm and by 4am numbers were down 84 per cent compared to before the legislation was implemented. This “chilling effect” on Sydney nightlife has been described in a recent opinion piece by Matt Barrie in the Courier-Mail.
The NSW reforms appear effective in reducing alcohol-fueled violence, but they appear to do so by lowering patronage rather than improving individuals’ drinking behaviour. As noted by Professor Gordian Fulde, an advocate for the lockout laws from the St Vincent’s Hospital Emergency Department:
“It’s a completely different place. The shops are empty, people have lost their jobs, there’s no denying that. For every action there’s a consequence.”
There is limited evidence on whether the reduction in alcohol-fueled violence outweighs the costs of the “chilling effect” on Sydney night life (reduction in consumer choice/enjoyment and reduced business activity).
Ideally, a consideration of the similar legislation for Queensland would involve a rigorous assessment of the expected benefits and costs of the proposed lockout and last drinks legislation.
The recently released Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee report on the proposed legislation discusses some of the positive and negative impacts on various sections of the community, but does not attempt to compare these impacts and explicitly conclude whether there is a ‘net cost’ or a ‘net benefit’ from the legislation overall.
The difficulties of using blunt regulatory solutions to address what are essentially cultural and social problems are numerous. If robust policy analysis is not done before ‘doing something’ it increases the risk of poor policy decisions and unintended consequences.
The Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee recommends conducting an evaluation of the legislation after it has been in place for 18 months to assess the impacts on the community. Recent history indicates that the quality of such evaluation needs to improve if it is to yield useful evidence for policy makers. According to the Queensland Auditor General the last evaluation of Drink Safe Precincts was not well planned or implemented, and did not provide reliable conclusions on the effectiveness of the trialed measures.
Rod Bogaards is an economic consultant and former Director of the Productivity Commission.