ACT News

Alcohol-fuelled assaults prompt Canberra nightclub lockout call

Peak alcohol safety bodies have called on theACT government to introduce a 1am lockout policy at bars and nightclubs inCanberra after a spate of alcohol-induced assaults.

The ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance, which represents 47 organisations including the ACT Australian Medical Association, believes the lockout is necessary and will not have a "disastrous" impact on the economy.

The ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance has called for a 1am lockout policy at bars and clubs in Canberra.
The ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance has called for a 1am lockout policy at bars and clubs in Canberra.  Photo: AFR

In July, the government sought consultation on a range of possible measures to reduce violence in the city, such as earlier closing times for bars, lockouts and setting minimum prices for alcohol.

The announcement was prompted by disturbing revelations of alcohol use and abuse in the city with assaults increasing since 2010 despite reforms, with incidents peaking between midnight and 6am.

Canberra's emergency departments have recorded a 35 per cent increase in intoxication cases and a 24 percent increase in alcohol-related injuries in three years.

Both Canberra and Calvary hospitals have reported serious injuries including skull fractures, bleeding to the brain and permanent brain injury.

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In a submission, the alliance called for new legislation that would block people from entering bars and nightclubs after 1am, with closing times restricted to 3pm.

"The purpose of these measures is to reduce the availability of alcohol during late night trade to reduce high levels of alcohol harms," the submission said.

"It is expected that licensees would experience a change in business after the introduction of late night trading restrictions."

Currently, the standard hours for bars and clubs are 7am till midnight although they can apply to stay open longer, with 89 operating after midnight.

Forty-eight are open after 3am, closing as late as 5am, many of them in the city. 

The alliance, which also represents the Salvation Army, Directions ACT, and the Ted Noffs Foundation, said alcohol remained a significant cause of harm in the ACT.

"The impact of this harm is reflected in alcohol-related emergency department presentations in ACT, with more than 18 people a day presenting because of an alcohol-related injury," the submission said.

There had been a 32 per cent increase in alcohol-related emergency presentations – from 5084 to 6702 – in the four years from 2009-10.

The government report focuses on cheap sales in supermarkets and bottle stores and suggests ideas to boost prices, including a minimum price, and banning promotions such as discount vouchers.

"The alliance called on the government to address the 'reckless discounting of alcohol by banning the sale of alcohol for less than one dollar per standard drink in on- and off-premise venues'," the submission said.

The government has also sought consultation over a plan to force licensed venues to indicate their risk rating to patrons, which could be based on the number of confirmed violent of unlawful behaviours reported at the premises.

If introduced, the "scores on doors" scheme would be an Australia first, with consultation also sought on whether minors could be employed to test whether stores are selling liquor to teenagers.

But not all submissions to the government supported the government proposals or the alcohol policy alliance.

Australia's third largest alcohol supplier Diageo​ urged the government to avoid introducing lockouts and restricting hours.

"It is important to strike the right balance between the rights of the overwhelming majority of Australians who drink responsibly and the goal of addressing alcohol-related harm," the Diageo submission said.

"Many recent and proposed policy responses, such as lockouts, are population-wide control measures which discourage responsible drinkers but which do little to deter troublemakers or people who misuse alcohol."

ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance also includes the Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs Association, the Cancer Council, Catholic Care, Karralika, the Public Health Association of Australia, and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.