Special series - Punch Drunk, part one: Civic remains a hotbed of alcohol-fuelled violence

Special series - Punch Drunk, part one: Civic remains a hotbed of alcohol-fuelled violence

Despite the efforts of police and politicians, Civic remains a hotbed of alcohol-fuelled violence. Today, in the first part of a special series, Christopher Knaus reports on how supposedly tough measures introduced three years ago as part of a promised crackdown have failed to reduce the high level of violence in the city's heart.

    The ACT government's tough new liquor laws have failed to cut drunken violence in Civic, Canberra's roughest and most popular nightclub district.

    More than 600 alcohol-related assaults have occurred in the city centre since the introduction of the government's reforms in December 2010 - at least one every two days.

    ACT police cordon off a section of Northbourne Avenue and London Circuit.

    ACT police cordon off a section of Northbourne Avenue and London Circuit.Credit:Jenna Clarke


    That is despite the government giving tough powers to regulators and police to crack down on punters, pubs, nightclubs, bars and sports clubs doing the wrong thing.

    A new risk-based fee system was also introduced, dramatically increasing the cost of liquor licences for Canberra venues deemed to pose the most danger to the public.

    A specialist police squad was created to work alongside officers from City Beat - the two teams have since merged - to tackle alcohol-related crime in Civic.

    Three years later, the reforms are being publicly praised by Attorney-General Simon Corbell as a success.

    His government has recently been handed a report by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, which found the risk-based liquor licensing scheme has coincided with a 25 per cent reduction in all alcohol-related offences across the ACT, a statistic which includes suburban areas with few licensed venues.

    The study commends the government's approach to liquor licensing, and said there was a ''strong case'' for its continuation and wider application.

    But police data reveals that in Civic, the territory's largest and by far the most violent nightclub district, the reforms have had no impact since December 2010.

    The figures show the number of reported alcohol-related assaults in the city centre, both in its public places and licensed venues, has increased.

    Civic has the highest density of licensed venues in Canberra, and should have been the biggest beneficiary of any change stemming from the liquor reforms.

    Alcohol-related crime in the city is also the worst of any location in the ACT, seeing seven times more offences than Kingston, Manuka, and Griffith combined, and four times more than the next worst suburb of Belconnen.

    Despite their lack of impact in Civic, the government still believes its reforms have been a success, preferring to cite the territory-wide drop in alcohol-related crime.

    "The liquor reforms are a success because we've seen a reduction in the level of alcohol-related offences right across the city," Mr Corbell said.

    "Alcohol-related offences are down, public order offences are down, assaults are down, these are good results and demonstrate the effect of a range of measures, including the liquor licensing reforms."

    But the opposition has taken a different view, with leader Jeremy Hanson describing the failure to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence in Civic as "disturbing".

    Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the problem of drunken violence in the ACT is as bad if not worse than other states.

    The ACT has the highest number of physical assault victims per capita in the country, a rate which is well above the national average and has almost doubled between 2008-09 and 2011-12.

    The ABS data shows a majority of assault victims nationwide said alcohol played a part in their attacks.

    Behind those numbers are disturbing stories of gratuitous violence, of unprovoked king-hits and the punching and stomping of the heads of unconscious victims.

    The issue is set for further public debate, as the ACT government conducts its two-year review of the effectiveness of the 2010 reforms.

    That process is likely to draw strong views about their impacts - positive or otherwise - from a host of players, including hotel lobby groups, alcohol and drug researchers, victims, health workers, police representatives and politicians.

    The assessment of the ACT liquor laws and a spate of recent alcohol-related violent incidents in the city coincides with an outpouring of anger and calls for decisive government action over the high-profile Thomas Kelly case.

    The Sydney teenager died after being king-hit without provocation in Kings Cross.

    Just last week, hundreds rallied in Sydney's CBD to denounce alcohol-fuelled violence and call for tougher penalties for perpetrators.

    The NSW government has already announced its plans for a new offence under so-called "one-punch laws", but the opposition is pressuring it to bring a scheme to Kings Cross similar to that of Newcastle, where revellers face a 1am lockout.

    In the ACT, police earlier this month went public with details about a night of violence in Civic, in which one man was punched and kicked in the head, and then left lying unconscious on the street.

    That came just before a man was found guilty for a separate king-hit case involving a drunk Irish tourist who was left with brain damage when he was attacked in Civic in 2011.

    The failure to reduce violence in Civic has already prompted criticism from the opposition that the new liquor scheme is simply not working.


    "The statistics are disturbing, they show the government's policies have been failing," Mr Hanson said.

    "Violence in Civic is a real concern for me, I think that it's a deterrent for people to go out and enjoy a night out.''

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