Reported late-night assaults have dropped markedly in Queensland’s largest party zone since the introduction of Labor’s first tranche of controversial so-called “lockout laws”. But a finding on whether they have worked won’t be made until months after the election.
Over the same period, the granting of new liquor licences decreased almost as steeply across the state but particularly in inner-city Brisbane, painting a broad-brush picture of the region’s changing nightlife.
Police figures detailing weekend night assaults in the Fortitude Valley Safe Night Precinct showed an 8 per cent decrease in the six months after venue trading restrictions kicked in on July 1, 2016.
From the first half of 2016 to the first of this year, Friday and Saturday night assaults fell by almost a third but were still only slightly lower than 2015 levels, according to police data.
But police, experts and venue owners all cautioned the figures showed only a small part of the picture and it was far too early to judge the effectiveness of any of the Palaszczuk government’s attempts to tackle late-night violence.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk sidestepped a question on whether her government’s liquor laws were “kneecapping” Brisbane pubs, given the decrease in applications for new licences.
“I think what we’re seeing is the decrease, the massive decrease in the number of offences is showing that our laws are working,” she said.
“Now these are early days, we’ll get the full report, but that decrease is welcome news because at the end of the day, it’s about public safety, it’s about people being able to go out, have a good time, right, but also to be safe.”
New liquor licence approvals also fell steeply from 2015-16 to 2016-17, with a drop of 9 per cent across Queensland, according to the latest Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation figures.
The difference was even starker in inner-city Brisbane, where new approvals dropped 18 per cent, only slightly offset by a 10 per cent increase in the outer suburbs.
From June 30 2016 to the same time this year, total liquor licences statewide increased by 320 to 8185, Attorney-General Yvette D’ath said earlier this month.
Venues trading past 2am dropped by half while 91 per cent of licensed venues, the vast majority of which were restaurants, stopped selling liquor at midnight.
These two isolated datasets formed only part of the complex challenge of analysing the effect of the controversial laws, brought into place in the wake of promising young water polo player Cole Miller’s one-punch killing in January last year.
Deakin University violence prevention expert Peter Miller and his team will hand down a report in April encapsulating the effects on police charges, ambulance callouts, hospital presentations, venue numbers and foot traffic.
Professor Miller said the job was complicated further by elements as diverse as the mining downturn and police policy changes on reporting domestic violence.
“When there’s an increase or a drop, I have to be quite clear, I’m just being cautious because this deserves caution,” he said.
“(To say) ‘there’s been a drop in results’ is great news.
“Whether it’s consistent and whether it’s related to the intervention directly, we will be able to make that statement really solidly in April.”
A final report due in October will define the overall economic benefit or loss from the legislation.
In July 2016, venues in Safe Night Precincts such as Fortitude Valley had to stop service of alcohol at 3am. Plans to introduce 1am lockouts were eventually scrapped, removing the most well-known regulation.
On July 1 this year, mandatory ID scanning for all venues trading past midnight in the designated party areas were added to the mix, drawing the ire of small bars who complained about having to hire security to staff them.
Older revellers were also frustrated when they forgot or did not have valid ID, with high-profile incidents including a group of French winemakers and One Punch Can Kill advocate and boxer Danny Green.
Police recorded 102 assaults in the Valley precinct in the first half of this year, the lowest in the past 10 years and the first time since 2015 the number had fallen below 120.
Valley Liquor Accord president Trent Meade said the drop in reported assaults across Fortitude Valley was “terrific news” but said it was hard to make a determination whether the drop was a result of the state government’s controversial lockout legislation.
“I think those results are an outcome of a lot of hard work and collaboration between licensees, amazing work by Chaplain Watch, emergency services, police,” he said.
“I would expect if they are talking about there being less incidents occurring than there was 12-18 months ago, between three and five am, then that makes sense because venues are shutting earlier.
“I have been in here for over six years now and I have been noticing a reduction occurring year on year and year which is why I was against any further sledgehammering in terms of legislation.”
Fortitude Valley Patrol Inspector David French was similarly hesitant to link assaults with specific legislative measures, saying everything from media reporting of high-profile incidents, through to increased police presences could also be playing a part.
“Essentially it all comes down to the attitude of the people generally in the community,” he said.
“To the point where violence is not considered to be an appropriate response to anything, which happens to be in terms of a personal slight or people getting bumped.
“We still have acts of violence, which are started by the most minor of matters so hopefully we’ll get to the point where people think clearly of what they’re about to do and walk away.”
Both Inspector French and Professor Miller struggled to explain a dramatic dip in assaults in 2015 and three half-year periods in a row with identical assault figures from July 2011.
This article first appeared on Brisbane Times on 2 November 2017.