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In March of this year, 2008, Newcastle was hit with a curfew for drinking establishments such as pubs, bars and nightclubs. The curfew states that at 1:00am the doors close and the patrons are shut in, if you leave you can’t get back in under any circumstances and no one else allowed in. No drink to be served thirty minutes before closing time and closing time for all is to be no later than 3:00am.

This curfew was put into place to combat reports of rising alcohol related violence in the city, mainly from concerned residents of the inner city. The issue gained a national spot light when the news program The 7:30 Report on the ABC and several other likeminded programs featured stories on the ‘problem’.

The depictions of the city after dark showed something ugly. They were images that make you want to warn your friends from out of town about this fair city of ours. I myself felt this way watching the program, until I realised that these are some of the places I go to on a night out or at least the same area. This is not the way it is at all. I started to feel a little sick. Even a local licensee, Rolly de Witt, was quoted on an ABC News website saying, "Everyone should be ashamed that our city was portrayed like this. I've had calls from friends in Sydney asking me if it's really that bad up here. And of course it's not."

Some of the images were of young people walking around with wine bladders from box or cask wine, take away alcohol so cheap it could dissolve paint and some where engaging in fist to cuffs and being restrained by police.

To tell you the truth, I’ve seen that too. I’ve seen them walking around and causing all kinds of chaos. And do you want to know why? It’s because they can’t get into the pubs, bars and nightclubs. They’re all underage. There minors playing at being grow-ups.

This is not true of all of them, but a large part of the trouble makers after dark are minors. For these people, if you can call them that yet, the curfew has little effect. They are getting the alcohol from somewhere or someone, but they don’t have to be out in the street to have a good time. They can binge drink at home or a private party. That part of the problem will just not change and we could have AA meetings filled with 21 years olds who aren’t in the entertainment business.

The effect the curfew has on this group is like putting a band aid on a severed limb, it’s pointless. Here we need to educate and police the problem. And I would say of the parents, a little more backbone please. These kids are hurting the city.

Of course, the level of alcohol fuelled violence called to attention of the news isn’t all outside these establishments. Fanny’s Nightclub for instance, according to news articles and programs, was the fifth in the country for assaults with 28 incidents. But all I could think of at the time I heard this little nugget of information was, nobody dies from assaults in Newcastle, this isn’t Sydney or Melbourne. And remember, assaults can be as trivial as a good shove.

So what does all this mean for Newcastle and what are the effects? Well, to many people who work in the hospitality industry, they feel like they are being punished from the owners of restaurants and their chefs, hoteliers all the way down to wait staff and bar staff. Closing earlier means loss of revenue and loss of income for many like wait and bar staff, many of which are students or struggling first time employees. Many like Paul Goura, a bartender at Fanny’s, according to The Herald newspaper, is saving for a deposit on a house.

This seems unacceptable to me and very unfair. And many people in the hospitality industry don’t finish their shifts until very late, some not finishing until midnight or 1:00am. And those aren’t just employees of pubs, bars and clubs, its chefs, kitchen hands and wait staff too. If they want to go out after work and meet up with friends and have a few drinks, it is now almost impossible because of the shut in. And one thing I’ve learned from working in the industry is, if you work as hard as these people do to give everybody an enjoyable experience in these establishments and they can’t enjoy the free time themselves, you alienate a whole industry. You essentially are taking away their social lives and they are angry about it. Didn’t anyone making these new rules think about that one, didn’t they see Fight Club?

Many people who would go out for a meal or movie and then hit the nightclubs and pubs are not coming out in the city since the curfew came into effect, deciding instead to stay at home. Maybe it’s because they don’t want a time limit on their good times. This just adds to the problems of the hospitality industry.

With revenue down, many establishments are closing earlier. Popular places like Fanny’s nightclub and the Duck’s Nuts have recently closed at midnight, something I have never heard of since I’ve been old enough to drink.

The Duck’s Nut was, before the curfew, a 24 hours establishment closing for an hour every morning to clean. With the Duck’s closing at 3:00am, another demographic gets a slap in the face. I’m talking about shift workers. A great Australian tradition is having a few drinks after a hard day’s work and wind down with colleagues. Night worker on the Dog Watch could always grab some refreshment before heading home and now that basic freedom has been taken away from them. And these men and women work a lot hard than the people who put the curfew into effect.

Some of the late night eateries seem to less be populated as well. King Street McDonalds (open 24 hours), The Hamburger Haven and the Oasis in Beaumont Street Hamilton have les people stopping of grab a feed on the way home from a night out. That has to dig into profits because you can’t make money if the people aren’t there.

So what is the verdict? Newcastle is hurting.

The curfew seems to be an American style knee jerk reaction to a greater problem. It isn’t really going to fix anything. People are still going to drink and some people are still going to cause trouble, it will just be in a different arena. It seem to me that people who should be taking responsibility, quite simply aren’t. And it’s all the rage. And the freedom to choose is at risk. The cigarette smoking ban is a good example. It’s a choice to smoke, it was a choice to go out to a bar or pub where people smoked and it was a choice to work in an establishment that allowed smoking inside. Instead to taking responsibility for these choices, people complained and lobbied and now smoking in a public area is against the law.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a smoker and I believe that law is a good one. But who’s responsibility is this problem? The resident who first complained who knowingly moved into the city around the bars, pubs and nightclubs? The patrons who frequent these establishment? The police? The answer is, all of them. We had a problem and instead to working through it like intelligent people we gave the decision to someone else to make for us. These people who just want to look like their doing something without actually fixing the problem their asked to fix. People who don’t take responsibility. I call them politicians and government bureaucrats.

For many years, the parent and civic groups, owners of business, restaurants and nightspots and the concerned public in Newcastle have been asking for more support for substances abusers, education programs for underage drinking, and a greater police presence on the streets after dark. That seems reasonable to me, how about you? Did we get it? No. I fact the police presence in the past has been a joke, myself having witnessed the same three officers on foot walk into a number of businesses on the same night, look around quickly and leave.  No questions asked, no notes made and off to the next one. I rarely saw them out past 11:00pm.

The problem of alcohol related violence and underage binge drinking could have been lessened greatly if we were taken seriously and plan put into place, enough to please the residents of the inner city.

On the 1st of May, the local NBN news had a news story on the curfew and how it seems to be working. The police official that they interview told the camera that car thefts and break-ins where down 33% and malicious damage was down 24%. Two out of these three things that doesn’t seem to have a thing to do with alcohol.

The news report went on to say, “A month on proves that it is working.” What do any of these things have to do with the curfew? Not a damn thing. But it didn’t end there. The report “reported” that it is not just the curfew effecting change; there is a greater police presence. They are talking and interacting with the people who are out and about and intervene when they are needed. And they are aware that the curfew is not to be thanked for the drop in crime but is played an important role.

What the...? So the police are now doing their job, in greater numbers and more effectively. Make is easier I suppose when there are less people on the streets. The one thing we needed to help the situation before the curfew, we are given after it went into effect. It’s too little, too late. The damage has been done to the city. The only thing that will reverse it is remove the curfew and keep the cops. Give some more discretionary powers to the owners and managers of the establishments now serving alcohol and educate them and the people frequenting these establishments. Then maybe we, as the residents of Newcastle, can become proud of our city again.

Finally, I asked an old friend from Newcastle who is in Canberra now about the curfew and the new alcohol laws. He emailed me this response:

What are they really about? It’s not really that people are drinking; it’s the idea that drinking is connected to violence and crime. But we've always drunk haven’t we? So what’s different? What’s happening with employment in Newcastle? What about education? And social engagement of young people? Have there been changes in the buses and trains serving Newcastle on Friday and sat nights etc? all these things have an impact on social behaviour, throw some beers into the mix, teen angst, anger at the world etc and what do you get?? So really is alcohol responsible? Sure the alcohol laws may be brought in and then later people say, 'well look, we brought in the new laws and now there is less crime....' but it doesn’t mean that the two are causally related. What about the idea that because the bar is closed people are able to get the early bus and therefore get home. They still drink the same amount, in fact they drink earlier and get fersnickered, but because they are cut off earlier they go home earlier....
so the reducing access to alcohol isn’t the cause, getting the bus is...

None of this, the curfew, the alcohol laws and public reaction seems to make much sense to anybody.

Published: May 15, 2008 5:34pm by redhead.

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