Alcohol-fuelled violence demands nuanced response
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Alcohol-fuelled violence demands nuanced response

The violence that comes from alcohol abuse is a blight on our community. Whether it is a one-punch attack outside a nightclub, or the insidious family violence in private homes, every act of alcohol-fuelled violence leaves a legacy of physical and emotional pain.

Reducing alcohol-fuelled violence in Canberra is something that needs to be addressed, and urgently. But we need to take a holistic view, and examine the deep cultural problems with substance abuse and related acts of violence that we have in Australia. Reducing violence on our streets at night does not need to be about closing venues early, nor does it need to be about stopping good, law-abiding people from having an enjoyable night out.

The ACT Greens would like to see a risk-based approach to liquor licensing in Canberra.

The ACT Greens would like to see a risk-based approach to liquor licensing in Canberra.

Photo: jamila_toderas

Canberra has started to develop a thriving night-time economy. Canberra's nightlife has had a positive impact on the growth of our music and arts scenes and is something that many Canberra residents and visitors to the Territory enjoy.

Closing late-night venues earlier does not adequately deal with the causes of violence or the associated abuse of alcohol, it simply shifts those problems elsewhere. People do not stop drinking to excess or needlessly hurting others because lockout laws are introduced.

Take for example the introduction of the 2am lockout laws trial in Victoria in 2008. A review by KPMG into the trial found that while the number of reported assaults after 2am decreased, the number of reported assaults occurring prior to 2am increased. This suggests that people are likely to go out earlier, drink similar quantities and still engage in acts of violence. This is why we must demand smarter, comprehensive solutions with a focus on harm minimisation.

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The ACT Greens believe there are smart and effective ways to reduce alcohol-fuelled violence without needing to turn off the lights on Canberra's nightlife.

Reducing violence is about being proactive, not reactive, and creating a culture in our community that comprehensively rejects violence, in all its forms.

The ACT Greens will push to introduce many of the other elements put forth in the ACT liquor reform white paper to keep our night-time economy safe as well as vibrant.

We would like to see an improved risk-based approach to liquor licensing where smaller bars and venues with live music are encouraged. Evidence shows that factors such as venue capacity are accurate indicators of the risk of alcohol-related violence.

We need harsher penalties for not adhering to the responsible service of alcohol, an increase in the diversity of night-time activities so drinking isn't the primary focus, and an increase in the number of police on the ground during busy periods.

These sorts of measures work. The first phase of liquor licensing reforms in 2010 saw an increase in night-time policing and improvements to late-night transport, with better taxi operations and the introduction of Uber. Alcohol-related assaults fell by an average of 11 per cent between 2010-2011 and 2012-2013 periods, on a month-to-month basis,across the ACT. These measures help to eliminate the fights that take place at taxi queues.

And we need to look at off-licence liquor outlets. Alcohol-fuelled violence isn't something that only takes place outside a nightclub in Civic early on a Saturday or Sunday morning. It happens in private homes throughout the week.

Looking at the costs of licences for discount liquor stores, or where and when they are able to trade, could make a difference. Should they be geographically controlled, like chemists? Enhancing our social support services and programs for people who have a history of violence and assaults should also be an important part of this solution.

While I didn't support the introduction of the Attorney-General's so-called "last drinks" proposal, I do believe we can make our city safer for night-time revellers.

Arts, entertainment and events are important to enhance Canberra's culture and promote creativity and a greater level of activity and social interaction in our city. Restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs do have a place in Canberra. Violence does not. The time has come for us to be smarter about how we solve these kinds of problems.

Shane Rattenbury is ACT Greens MLA and Minister for Justice and Consumer Affairs.

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