News has just broken that police tonight arrested an 18-year-old man in Belmore for the death of Thomas Kelly, 18, killed in an unprovoked attack at 10 pm in Kings Cross on July 7.
Kelly’s death triggered an emotional community response and a sweeping audit of licensed venues in the entertainment district in an effort to crack down on alcohol-related violence.
NSW Hospitality Minister George Souris announced the blitz at the Safer Sydney forum held at Sydney Town Hall last night. The panel also included Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Wentworth MP Malcolm Turnbull, and NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Murdoch, as well as a representative from the Australian Hotels Association.
Mr Turnbull told an estimated 400 residents, business owners and community leaders in attendance that, “If you wanted to attract large numbers of drunk people to one location, the arrangements in place at Kings Cross are ideal”.
Assistant Police Commissioner Murdoch identified alcohol as the primary cause for violence in Kings Cross.
“We need to stop treating the symptoms and attack the problem. The problem is alcohol,” he said.
Director of NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Dr Don Weatherburn, also said that alcohol was the major factor in crime and violence in the Kings Cross area.
“About 86 per cent of all assaults that occur or are recorded by police within the 500m radius of Kings Cross station are alcohol related,” he said.
Violence is concentrated along two streets, Darlinghurst Road and Bayswater Road, and between the hours of 12am and 3am.
“We estimate that it’s costing St Vincent’s Hospital emergency department about $1.6 million per year. And that doesn’t include any inpatient care,” Dr Weatherburn said.
“If you restrict the availability of alcohol, reduce the supply of alcohol, there is no question in my mind that the assault rate would come down.”
The CEO of Australian Hotels Association’s NSW branch, Paul Nicolauo, rejected claims that alcohol was the sole problem for violence in the area, arguing that use of drug such as ice and ecstasy were to blame.
He said NSW had “the toughest legislation in Australia when it comes to licensed premises” and that “you can’t disregard the aspect of drugs”.
But Dr Weatherburn countered that alcohol plays the dominant role and amphetamines “play a secondary role”.
“The vast majority of heavy drinkers don’t use amphetamines, but on the other hand the vast majority of amphetamine users are also heavy drinkers. Alcohol plays the dominant role and amphetamines play a secondary role,” he said.
Many residents addressed the forum to demand a 1am lockout to improve security and reduce violence in the Kings Cross area.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore suggested the state look at successful initiatives in other cities with a vibrant nightlife such as New York.
“In other cities there is a wind down or a cooling down period. For example, they stop serving drinks at 3am or 4am at the venue,” the Lord Mayor said.
“It remains open for another couple of hours and people can have soft drinks or they can have coffee or they can stay there. They can gradually leave those premises; they don’t just close them all at a certain hour.”
Councillor Moore proposed a trial of late night sprint service trains out of Kings Cross, and for nightclubs to reapply for liquor licences every year.
“The key is a state coordinated management plan for Kings Cross on a Friday and Saturday night,” she said.
Joint report by Stephanie Hansen and Winsome Walker