Drunken Violence And The Truth About The Newcastle Solution

02 January 2014
It was impossible to avoid a sick, horrified feeling, "oh no, not again". Another young man fighting for his life after a random, unprovoked attack in the street from a drunken maggot on a night out. As Daniel Christie lies in a coma after heading out on his first New Year's Eve alone with friends, everyone is desperately hoping for a solution...and the "Newcastle Solution" is the one that's often raised. Since 2008, alcohol sales are restricted after 10pm, patrons cannot enter venues after 1:30am and everything shuts at 3am - leading to a 37% reduction in alcohol related assaults. It looks great, at first glance. Trying this is suggested for Sydney, to reduce the violence. But would it work?

 In the first place, it's worth noting that the intention of the Newcastle solution was never to reduce alcohol-related violence. In the early 2000s, as part of the urban renewal, large blocks of luxury apartments were built in the Newcastle CBD; these were especially popular with downsizing retirees and baby boomers. But having moved into town to be close to the action, they found the action was a lot noisier than they thought. There's very little suburban nightlife in Newcastle; everyone goes into town, pouring in from the lake, the valley, the suburbs. And it made a lot of noise, and the elderly residents didn't like it, and began agitating for a curfew at least as early as 2002; I wrote a letter to the Newcastle Herald at the time saying what a dreadful idea it was. I was in my early twenties then, and went out a lot, and saw very little violence and nearly always felt safe. The residents didn't care; they formed an action group, and kept lobbying and lobbying, and finally got their way in 2008. The official reasoning for the lockout system was that the hotel patrons were causing "undue disturbance to the quiet and good order of the neighbourhood" - not about the violence.

On paper, it worked to reduce violence; the 37% reduction in assaults we keep hearing about. But it is important to note that this is in the Newcastle CBD only. Locked out of bars and pubs, people increasingly attend suburban house parties - what are the statistics on assaults there? They're unregulated, unpatrolled, more likely to lead to drunk driving as the mediocre public transport from the Newcastle CBD is replaced by none at all in the suburbs. There is also the inevitable economic losses - the impact on businesses that trade in alcohol has been huge, and has lead to a lot of job losses, particularly among students and young people who heavily engage in bar work.

It's also worth noting that a curfew wouldn't have helped Daniel Christie or Thomas Kelly, who died after a single unprovoked punch in July 2012. Mr Christie was attacked at 9pm and Mr Kelly at 10pm by fetid pieces of distended monkey rectum who had begun drinking earlier in the day. They were both attacked at a time when most people are only starting to go out, long before any curfew would begin. How would a curfew work in an international city like Sydney, anyway? Tourists get here and can't get into a club after 1am? Would they kick everyone out of the casino for a bit? (That, I'd be okay with). What happens during Mardi Gras?

If a curfew would work, I'd be all for it. But I just can't see it - people have been drinking till dawn for years, and this culture of attacks is a recent thing. I don't know what's causing it - Alan Jones? But rushing in a band aid solution won't stop this. I wish something would.


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