University of Newcastle: Building evidence on alcohol-related violence

Professor Kypros Kypri believes his research linking alcohol restrictions with a dramatic fall in assaults in the regional city of Newcastle has most likely “been a necessary condition” for the widespread introduction of alcohol regulations across Australia – but there were other equally important factors at play in getting this evidence used in policy.

Professor Kypri, a behavioural scientist at the Centre for Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics at the University of Newcastle, began researching alcohol-related assault when alcohol restrictions were introduced in the city of Newcastle, NSW.

Following complaints about noise, violence and disorder, CBD hotels in Newcastle were ordered to close at 3.30am, with a lockout on patrons entering licensed venues after 1.30am, from March 2008.

The measures resulted in a 37% drop in assaults in Newcastle CBD over the first 18 months, compared to the neighbouring suburb of Hamilton which also had late trading hotels but was not affected by the restrictions. Today, assaults are half what they were before 2008, he says.

Influencing policy in other jurisdictions

Professor Kypri says those findings – often dubbed the “Newcastle solution” – were cited in the 2014 introduction of new alcohol restrictions in Sydney, including a 1.30am lockout and 3am last drinks laws across the Sydney CBD Entertainment Precinct,

However, he suggests the trigger for the new laws was public pressure put on the NSW Government in the wake of the deaths of two young men who were assaulted in the CBD.

“You never really know that a piece of research definitively produced an outcome,” he says. “But I would say it was likely this research [on Newcastle regulations] played an important part.

“It was probably a necessary condition for change but not a sufficient one.”

The restrictions in Sydney have already been hugely successful in reducing assaults, he says, with new research conducted in collaboration with the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) showing large reductions in the number of non-domestic assaults in the Kings Cross Precinct (down 45%) and Sydney CBD (down 20%).

Professor Kypri was also called on to give evidence to a Queensland Parliamentary Inquiry into alcohol-related violence in February, which led to the state’s parliament passing legislation to restrict nightclub and hotel owners from selling alcohol after 2am, or after 3am in designated entertainment precincts.

The right place at the right time

While the research from Newcastle and Sydney was again “definitely a consideration”, he says the Queensland changes were championed by Labor MP Anthony Lynham, a maxillofacial surgeon who had stated his main purpose in running for Parliament was to address alcohol-related harm.

“I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time,” Professor Kypri says. “A lot of factors came together to get the laws passed. Dr Lynham’s credibility, drive and political skill in pushing for change was vital but he needed scientific evidence.”

The new restrictions on alcohol sales in various jurisdictions of Australia have resulted in “thousands of people not being assaulted, and none of them will know they were protected. That’s the nature of prevention and makes this interesting work” he says.

But Professor Kypri admits research evidence does not always translate so directly into policy.

“My criterion for policy-relevant research is for the work to be discussed in the public and political domains,” he says. “I just want to make sure my work is relevant and digestible so the evidence might be brought to bear on important decisions.”

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