Support for 3 Strikes Bill

(11.04am 19 October 2011, Parliament House NSW)

Sydney has a thriving nightlife but it needs to be safe for everyone. Alcohol-related violence and antisocial behaviour are a serious ongoing problem, particularly in the inner city. In Kings Cross last year the City of Sydney recorded 80 violent incidents in just one hour between 1.00 a.m. and 2.00 a.m. on a Sunday morning—and police tell me such incidents are happening every weekend. Making our night-time economy safe is a priority. Our current approaches are very limited and crime safety experts, police, emergency workers, venue patrons and city residents all want something to be done. Having high quality, well-managed and safe late-trading premises is central to our reputation as a safe place to visit.

I support the Liquor Amendment (3 Strikes) Bill (No. 2), which will encourage better venue management. The bill creates a strike system: serious offences such as supplying alcohol to drunken patrons or minors, or permitting assaults, can lead to a strike. Three strikes can result in a liquor licence being suspended for 12 months or being cancelled. The proposed system does not go as far as the initial bill introduced in June. Strikes are only possible for a serious offence, not for repeated offences that are not deemed serious, and only when there is a conviction for that offence.

The first strike will be automatic following a conviction, with discretion to impose a second and third strike following a second and third conviction depending on the seriousness of any potential harm. Action taken in response to a first or second strike must be a "reasonable" measure to deal with the offence that resulted in a strike. There are provisions for reduced trading hours and liquor sales prohibitions on a second strike and for cancellation or a 12-month suspension of liquor licence on a third strike. The system is fair on licensees, who will be able to appeal against a third strike in the Administrative Decisions Tribunal, and there is discretion to impose conditions instead of a strike. Good operators with well-managed venues should be allowed to trade but unscrupulous, irresponsible operators should be held accountable. Venue managers that do not address antisocial behaviour, that serve drunken customers and whose venue is the scene of repeated violence are a major problem and should not have free rein to trade late at night.

The proposed strike system would complement the late trading permit system that the City of Sydney has suggested to the Government. A permit system would encourage and reward good management, and such systems already operate successfully in Queensland and global cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Vancouver and New York. The nightlife in these cities now contributes extraordinary amounts of dollars to their local economies. Legislation should also be introduced to allow councils and the State Government to further manage liquor outlet density when assessing late-trading applications. Research shows that the density of liquor outlets in a particular area is directly linked to street violence, and we need to establish criteria to assess whether an area has reached saturation. I note that the Victorian Coalition Government has recently introduced such reform.

The liquor freeze has helped stabilise trading in the hot spots of George Street south, Oxford Street, Darlinghurst and Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross, and I welcome the extension of the freeze to allow time to develop long-term reform that will create a sustainable night-time economy. Late night transport is a crucial issue and it is urgently needed. I welcome the Government's expansion of NightRide bus services. Drunken punters often roam the streets at night waiting for their train or bus service to resume because of the difficulty or prohibitive cost in catching a taxi. I do not blame people for that; no-one wants to pay $100 to get a taxi from Kings Cross to Bondi. Such people are vulnerable to street violence and the sheer number of people walking the streets creates the potential for conflict and major noise impacts for residents who are living in the highest densities in Australia.

The City of Sydney is developing a 20-year vision for Sydney's nightlife, informed by recent consultation in which thousands of people participated. In fact, we talked to 6,000 people online and had many community meetings, and I hosted many roundtables with industry. Research includes a cost-benefit analysis of the night-time economy, which has not been done in Australia before, a comprehensive report on how people use late night entertainment areas, and an international review of what distinguishes other successful global cities' night-time economies. The City continues consulting with business, police, industry leaders, creative communities, residents and visitors. We recently announced a range of summer trials including streamlining the development application process, in response to business, activating underutilised venues, in response to residents, pissoir trials, in response to everyone, and precinct ambassadors to help people in the central business district.

We have listened to what Sydneysiders think about late-night activities in their city. The message is loud and clear that people want a safer night: they want to go out by themselves, they want a safer night for their friends and families, and they want better transport options to get home. We need a sophisticated approach to address late-night violence, an approach with a range of actions that acknowledge the complexities of this problem. I look forward to continuing to work with the Government and will share the results of the City of Sydney's late-night policy consultation research, and work closely with the Minister to identify the best solutions for the city. We need a range of solutions to deal with the cause of alcohol-related violence, and the new Government has recognised this and committed to a range of responses. I commend the Minister and the Government.