City of Sydney finalises review of alcohol free zones, existing zones reduced

City of Sydney finalises review of alcohol free zones, existing zones reduced
Image: Ajax9, Shutterstock

by SYDNEY BALDWIN

 

The City of Sydney has finalised their review of alcohol-free zones in the city, with a proposal ready to go out to exhibition for public comment. The move follows the Greens’ action to reduce existing zones and refrain from adding new ones. 

Alcohol-free zones are utilised by councils across New South Wales to prevent alcohol-related behaviour and crime. The zones renew at a maximum of every four years.

In these alcohol-free zones, police have the power of taking and pouring people’s alcohol out on the spot, even if they are not behaving in a disruptive manner. Penalties for refusing to pour out alcohol include an obstruction charge and fine of up to $2,200. Failure to pay the fine can result in being sent to prison.

Alcohol-free zones have 24 hour restrictions while alcohol prohibited areas, (which includes parks and civic spaces) are usually restricted from 10pm to 10am. 

Council’s Change in Position

City of Sydney’s current review of the alcohol-free zones has been finalised and a proposal is set to go out to exhibition for public comment. 

This marks a major shift for Council, which was previously looking to expand new alcohol-free zones in just November, following the NSW Police’s request to add 15 new alcohol-free zones and 2 alcohol prohibited park areas.  

“Police had asked for expanded powers, but when pushed haven’t given any data or evidence about how they are using their current powers, or why alcohol-free zones are needed in certain areas,” Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore told City Hub.

“In some places communities have developed alcohol management plans in a holistic way, with a focus on harm minimisation. But that’s very few locations.”

When the proposal was put forward in November, there were a total of 379 alcohol-free zones in the City of Sydney, with Council proposing to renew 294 zones and 112 alcohol prohibited areas on top of the ones they wanted to add.

The City of Sydney’s quick overturning of the planned proposal last November was able to stop the renewal of alcohol-free zones as well as police attempts to greatly increase the number. 

“Community safety is important, but we need to implement solutions that actually work to address the issues, and don’t cause other harm,” Clr Ellsmore said.

 “Police have powers to deal with safety and alcohol on the streets, without these zones.”

Impacts on communities

Community legal centres have provided strong evidence that these alcohol-free zones disproportionately affect and are used against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people on low incomes, and people experiencing homelessness.

Sam Lee, Redfern Legal Centre’s police accountability solicitor, told City Hub that alcohol-free zones should coexist with support services for people experiencing homelessness, as well as mental health and substance abuse issues.

“Implemented in isolation, these zones disproportionately impact groups that don’t drink in licensed venues, such as young adults, low-income individuals, and those experiencing homelessness,” she said.

“Redfern Legal Centre supports strategies to improve community safety and reduce alcohol-fueled violence. However, merely erecting a sign is not a comprehensive harm prevention strategy; it instead becomes another avenue for perpetuating the over policing of First Nations people, young people, individuals experiencing homelessness, and those with mental health issues.”

Cr Ellsmore said, “The extra police powers can and have been used as a tool to over-police Aboriginal communities and people experiencing homelessness. Past inquiries show that has been an issue all across the State where these laws operate.”

A majority of large clusters of alcohol prohibited areas are in Redfern and Waterloo, and alcohol-free zones primarily are located in Newtown, Waterloo and Glebe.

Proposal Review

In Council’s review of existing alcohol-free zones, there was some support for outdoor alcohol restrictions and considerable support for a harm minimisation strategy to manage the “proactive policing” of these communities.

The harm minimisation strategy could include steps such as health interventions, public education, community outreach programs, public space design and policies encouraging responsible alcohol consumption, rather than using alcohol free zones to regulate it. 

Another key factor highlighted in the review was to create community-led approaches for the public domain in order to manage alcohol consumption and get a better understanding on the outdoor alcohol restrictions effects on priority communities.

Council’s review looked to decide which alcohol restrictions should be kept due to community support, and which should not. The review’s outcomes detailed that restrictions should be based on locations with high incidents of alcohol-related crime, areas that the review identified to be of concern and applications from businesses and residents for alcohol free zones.

“Council’s decision to remove many of the zones, in locations where there was no evidence they have had a positive impact, is a great step in making our city a fairer place for everybody,” Clr Ellsmore says.

“Now the new list of zones is out for exhibition, we can hear more from the community, to make sure we get the balance right in the final decision.

“This is the right way to go about it  – council working hand in hand with local communities.” 

Council is taking public consultation and feedback for this up until 5pm on Monday 29 July 2024.

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