Analysis by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BoSCAR) has revealed a dramatic rise in domestic violence (DV) when the number of hotels in a council area is more than two pubs per 1000 residents.
The study also found a link to a rise in DV and and takeaway alcohol, but it was weaker, and the threshold lower, at 0.75 outlets per 1000 residents.
The research looked at the relationship between liquor outlet density and violence across 147 of the state’s 152 local government areas, taking into account other factors, such as the number of young men aged 15-34, social-economic disadvantage and population density, which could have an influence on violence levels.
The results are stark on all fronts. The more alcohol outlets available, the greater the level of violence.
When it came to pubs, once there was more than one pub per 500 people, the level of domestic violence increased dramatically. The relationship between liquor outlet density and violence was just as strong for non-domestic assault as it was for DV.
Bureau director Dr Don Weatherburn said that the study added weight to previous studies showing that the relationship between liquor outlet density and violence was complex.
“The critical relationship appears to be that between hotels and violence, but the relationship is not straightforward. Up to a density of two hotels per 1,000 residents, the increase in violence is modest. Beyond that point, it seems to increase rapidly,” he said.
The study produces clear thresholds for alcohol outlets that sound as warnings for plannings authorities. Go above them, especially for hotels and packaged liquor outlets, and it will have a substantial impact on assault rates.
The data revealed that:
The concentration of hotel licences in an LGA, particularly at higher density levels, was strongly predictive of both DV and non-DV assault rates. A similar, but slightly weaker, association was found for the concentration of packaged licences and DV and non-DV assault rates.
The study authors conclude that “new hotel licences in areas where the concentration of hotels is already above two per 1,000 residents should be of particular concern to regulatory authorities”.
Unlike the situation for hotels and packaged liquor licenses, the relationship between violence and the density of clubs and on-premises licences was linear; meaning that regardless of the concentration level, domestic assault rates increase as the density of club or on-premises licences increases in an area. As a result, a 10% increase in mean club concentrations, for example, produces a 1.3% increase in the rate of DV assaults.
While the NSW government has sought to tackle alcohol-related street street violence with late night lock out laws and the 10pm closure of bottle shops, a subsequent Parliamentary inquiry report into the laws, released in November 2014, made 14 recommendations, but contrary to the findings of this study, recommended that the minister responsible “consider alternatives to the liquor licence freeze in addressing liquor outlet density”.
The study also reveals that the highest rates of domestic violence are not limited to remote regions to the west of the Great Dividing Range, but also the western Sydney suburb of Campbelltown, and Lake Macquarie, south of Newcastle. The map also shows that living north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge makes a difference, with the northern suburbs and beaches having the lowest levels of domestic violence. Sutherland Shire stands out for the lowest rate of DV in southern Sydney.
The BoSCAR findings follow on from a study published last month in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research looking at liquor outlets in Victorian country towns which found that the number of outlets was related to income and the poorer the area, the more outlets.
Study author Christopher Morrison from Monash University looked at the relationships between outlets and income in adjacent areas, or interaction between areas.
“We found that residents of towns where the average income is lower have more bars, restaurants and liquor stores, exposing them to excess risk,” he said.
“This is likely an inevitable consequence of retail market dynamics. Because travel to towns farther afield than just the adjacent towns affects alcohol markets, lower-income towns will tend to have more outlets.”
As the authors of the BoSCAR study note, numerous studies over the past 15 years have demonstrated links between the number of liquor outlets and levels of violence, but this latest research is the first to identify a tipping point that should have major ramifications for planning and the approval of hotels and other licensed premises.