Lockout laws made Sydney profoundly better, says the senior Australian of the year

Professor Gordian Fulde when he was named senior Australian of the year in Canberra last month. Photo: Martin Ollman/Getty Images.

The doctor who’s led Sydney’s busiest emergency department for more than 30 years, Professor Gordian Fulde, has thrown his support to premier Mike Baird, saying the NSW government’s liquor laws have been an outstanding success in reducing alcohol-related violence and injuries.

Professor Fulde, director of St Vincent’s Emergency, near Kings Cross, was named senior Australian of the year in the Australia Day awards and has long campaigned for action as he dealt with accidents every weekend resulting from drunken behaviour.

He said the hospital – within its catchment the largest concentration of licensed premises in Australia – experienced a 25% drop in seriously injured emergency department patients between 6pm Friday and 6am Sunday in the year following the laws being introduced and disputed claims that the changes had pushed the problems further afield to areas such as Pyrmont, Newtown and Bondi.

The 66-year-old doctor added that the severity of alcohol-related related injuries had also dropped in the wake of the 1.30am lockout laws and a ban on the sale of off premises alcohol after 10pm.

“Our experience has been borne out by the official figures which show assaults are significantly down in the CBD and Kings Cross and down by 9% across NSW,” he said.

“There’s also been no evidence of alcohol-related assaults increasing in nearby area. We understand the Royal Prince Alfred hospital, the major public hospital serving the Newtown area, is reporting no increase in alcohol-related presentations and admissions in the two years since the measures were introduced.

“Informal discussions with colleagues at other hospitals tell similar stories.”

Professor Fulde also rejected the idea that the Cross was deserted.

“Despite what you hear, Kings Cross is not a ghost town. More than one million patrons pass through Kings Cross’ nightclubs and bars every year – and that’s excluding restaurants and small bars,” he said.

His intervention in the debate follows claims by Freelancer CEO Matt Barrie that the laws had destroyed Sydney’s night life, and that a City of Sydney study released last week used flawed data to emphasise the benefits.

The debate over the laws escalated over the weekend after police accused a Sydney wine bar of encouraging “antisocial” behaviour with a blackboard of by-the-glass wines, claimed the business, 10 William Street in Paddington, was in breach of its license conditions, although what the officers claimed they saw has been disputed by diners enjoying a meal there at the time.

Even Sydney mayor Clover Moore backed the wine bar, saying she felt the policing may have been “heavy-handed”.

And the NSW premier has been accused of fudging the figures he quoted in support of the laws in a Facebook post yesterday.

Baird’s post, which has now received more than 11,000 comments, many of them negative and scathing of his government, began by claiming alcohol-related assaults have decreased by 42.2% in the CBD and more than 60% in Kings Cross since the start of the lock-out laws, but the figures have been disputed by the man in charge of the state’s crime figures.

Assaults in Sydney have not decreased by as much as Premier Mike Baird claims, the state’s leading crime number cruncher has said, adding that violence was already in decline before lockout laws were introduced.

Don Weatherburn, director of the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, told ABC local radio that the figures were still substantial but nowhere near the numbers claimed by the premier.

He said assaults down by 20% in the CBD and 40% in Kings Cross and that the lockout laws had accelerated a pre-existing downward trend since 2008, and that both the number of people in Kings Cross and the amount of alcohol consumed had both dropped dramatically.

“The people that used to go to Kings Cross at one or three o’clock in the morning have simply scattered to wherever they came from, and they’re not bumping into the people they would have had a fight with,” he told ABC Radio.

But Dr Weatherburn agrees with Professor Fulde that the “displacement” argument is wrong and alcohol-related violence had not shifted to areas just outside the lockout zones.

“We don’t see any evidence of that. In the early part of the evaluation we saw a brief increase around Darling Harbour, near the casino,” he said.

“People have talked endlessly of an increase of assaults in Newtown; we don’t see any evidence whatsoever of that.”

Professor Fulde said people should remember what the city and Kings Cross were like two years ago, before the new laws were implemented.

“As time passes it’s harder for people to remember just what those days were like – but those of us who work on the frontline, we remember. Quite simply, it was a war zone,” he said.

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