Photo: Nic Walker
Punishing hotels and pubs for the drunken behaviour of patrons by introducing mandatory closing hours would be unfair, the Australian Hotels Association said, responding to a study which found drinking culture has become out-of-hand.
The Association's director of policing and membership in NSW, John Green, said venues had already introduced tighter security measures such as CCTV, ID scanners and security guards in their bid to stamp-out drunken behaviour and assaults.
"We shouldn't be ruled by the actions of a small number of people," Mr Green said.
"Mandatory closing of venues at a set time puts significant pressure on infrastructure. If you tip everyone out on the street at once, you put strain upon taxis, buses and trains as well as policing services."
He was responding to the Dealing with Alcohol-related Harm and the Night-time Economy report released on Monday, which found that increasing the price of alcohol in bottle shops and introducing mandatory closing hours in licensed venues would significantly curb alcohol-related crime.
The report from Melbourne's Deakin University found a culture of "pre-loading" on alcohol before going to pubs and clubs was causing alcohol-related crime, violence, hospital admissions, assault and death, while extended trading hours meant people were drinking for longer.
People were increasingly trying to avoid high alcohol prices in venues, it found, with about one in 10 people drinking 11 standard drinks or more before reaching a venue.
Mr Green said the figures showed liquor stores should be the target rather than venues.
"I don't think there is a stronger drinking culture now – it's always been there," he said.
"But we've got a situation at the moment where you can buy packaged liquor for 83 cents a can in some stores."
Lead author of the study, Peter Miller, described the Association's comments as "sad and disappointing".
He said increased security measures by venues alone were not working to curb alcohol-related crime and that transport services could easily be adjusted to accommodate mandatory closing hours.
"We don't have any evidence that the introduction of mandatory closing hours would increase strain on transport and policing," associate professor Miller said.
"We spoke to a lot of licensees [during the study] who took their duty of care seriously and I think the Australian Hotels Association is doing a very poor job in representing them."
While people may be resistant to the price of alcohol in liquor stores increasing, Professor Miller said the community was already paying more because of a strain on emergency services who had to deal with drunk and violent people.
"Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity," he said.
"Once mildly intoxicated, people have reduced decision-making ability and are more likely to be victims of harm.
"They don't pick up on cues that another person is dangerous, they don't think about consequences of their actions and they tend to overreact to what they do notice."
He said there was still too much drunken violence occurring and the only way to curb that would be if governments imposed tougher regulations on the alcohol industry, including venues, stores and alcohol companies.
"There are still too many tragedies where young, very drunk men and women are ideal victims for predators, and they've been at licensed venues drinking," he said.
Data from New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows an average of 230 assaults occur between midnight and 5am in licensed premises each month, while 350 assaults take place in outdoor and public places during the same time period.