Violence, alcohol and public transport

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By Ed Kennedy

The Coalition government has announced an extension to the ban on new venues selling liquor after 1am continuing the policy first introduced by the former Labor Government in 2011. The ban was continued with the same aims it was brought about; with the stated desire to combat alcohol related violence.

However many in the liquor industry feel the extension of the ban places a great amount of responsibility upon bars, pubs and clubs when many real causes and issues surrounding the problem remain unaddressed by government.

‘I feel much of the problem with violence is caused by lack of sufficient late night transport.’ sais Trevor Hines, General Manager of the Temperance Hotel, Windsor.

‘People all come out of the venue at the same time and this becomes an issue if they don’t get a tram, train or cab.’

Marco Martinez, bar manager of LALA Land in the Melbourne C.B.D also feels transport is a key to combating alcohol fuelled violence.

‘I believe an extension of the lockout is not the whole answer. I think the government should work on the infrastructure more.’

‘It’s fine they need us to get people out of the bars when we should and we’re happy to do that – but it’s actually providing transport to get them out of the area once they leave the bars the government could perhaps be better at.’

Tony Morton, President of the Public Transport Users Associations agrees transport is a key part of minimising risks in the early hours of the morning.

‘Obviously the availability of public transport doesn’t affect how much people drink, but it helps minimise the consequences by drawing people away from crowded areas’ sais Mr Morton.

‘Melbourne has very limited public transport after midnight – particularly from non-CBD venues – and the task is far greater than taxi services can be expected to cater for. Running at least some tram routes as 24-hour services should be considered, alongside a revamp of NightRider to more comprehensively mirror the train network.’

An examination of the availability of public transport in the City of Port Phillip gives an insight into the limited options currently available. If travelling home on a Saturday from Windsor railway station on Chapel St  beyond 2am the Nightrider bus is  in many instances the only public transport option available with the last Sandringham line train departing at 1.12am. Similarly the final route 79 tram running between north Richmond and St Kilda Beach passes by Windsor at 1.58am.  Presently nightrider services run every half hour which is 3 times the recommended time for trains, trams and buses suggested as the ideal by the Public Transport Users Association in their ‘Every ten minutes to everywhere’ campaign.

Given the heightened danger for alcohol related violence in the early hours of the morning as compared to other times of day (and night) suggests the relative scarcity and infrequency of public transport services remain a real factor in bringing down the risk of violence on the streets.

Though the extension of the ban has its critics, others in the community have praised the government.

“This extension makes sense. It’ll help keep alcohol related violence problems in Melbourne city from getting worse” sais Geoff Munro, Head of Policy for the Australian Drug Foundation.

“We need to address the density of late night venues and the number of venues that already have 24hour or late night licenses. We know that the later a licensed venue is open, the more alcohol-related violence occurs.”

In a statement for Edward O’Dononhue, Minister for Liquor and Gaming Regulation, a spokesperson indicated the government is aware of the need for more police on the streets and also indicated a strategic aim is behind the existing late night licenses. These licenses according to the spokesperson remain in effect with the aim to stagger the amount of people on the street late at night and looking to public transport at any one time.

‘Deployment of police is a matter for force command but the Coalition is delivering on its promise to provide an additional 1700 police officers, and 940 PSOs on train stations’ said the spokesperson.’

“The freeze does not create a lock out effect. Late night licences which were in place before the freeze are still in operation, giving people further places to go, rather than all emerging onto the street and trying to get home at the same time.”

Mathew Sanger, a general manager of multiple liquor venues in Melbourne feels disappointed with the government’s extension of the policy and the government’s handling of the matter. Mr Sanger feels the formation of a stronger working relationship between the liquor industry and government could go a long way to addressing the issues in a more effective way.

“I understand the government’s position, but if there are no new applications or variations on licenses after 1am that means all new premises close at 1am. So there is still a bottleneck of people on the street” sais Mr Sanger.

“Although it is something that we can aspire to and work towards, it may not be objective to expect there to be zero violent incidents on the street and in public transport at night.”

However, as we have said from day one, we are totally prepared to be involved with the government in collaboration with other community stakeholders in forming better strategies to minimise alcohol related violence.  The extension of the moratorium without liaising with the industry is representation without consultation, and it doesn’t work.

“There are no winners when there is violence on our streets; the government, the industry, the community and the victims of violence – we all lose out when violence occurs.”

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