Lockouts, public violence and whingeing doctors

Lockouts, public violence and whingeing doctors

Lockouts, public violence and whingeing doctors

February 19, 2016

Many years ago, when I first started working as a veterinarian, I accepted there would be parts of my job I wouldn’t like. Vets, as everyone knows, are expected to put animals to sleep, some when they are perfectly healthy. It can become wearing. Obviously other vets have issues too; vets are four times more likely to commit suicide than members of the general population.

The reason you probably didn’t know that little factoid is because we vets are disinclined to complain about our lot. By contrast, it seems barely a day goes past without members of the medical profession telling everyone how hard they’ve got it.

Recently, in response to public criticism of Sydney’s “lockout” laws, we had Professor Peter Miller telling all and sundry that “behind every number is a tragic story – you only need to ask the emergency department doctors, police, paramedics and surgeons who have to clean up the awful toll.”

Yes, violence causes injury and doctors are paid to treat the injuries. But their involvement is a matter of choice; they are not compelled “to clean up the awful toll”. Indeed, they don’t have to do trauma or emergency medicine, or even medicine itself, at all. Moreover, no-one is forced to join the police or ambulance service.

In fact, doctors demanding lockouts because they don’t like treating the victims of violence is equivalent to teachers demanding parents keep dumb kids at home. They should do their jobs, or find a job that they’d rather do.

Furthermore, there is something particularly unbecoming about upper middle-class professionals whining about their (well-paid) jobs. There’s a part of me that wants to send the lot of them to the nearest Centrelink so they can see how the unemployed and disabled respond to their grumping.

This last point is relevant because job losses and venue closures in Kings Cross since the lockout laws have been staggering: a third of licensed venues in the area have closed. The rest are hanging on by a thread, hoping the NSW government will see sense. And it’s not just the pubs, nightclubs and dens of iniquity that are suffering. Restaurants, shops and newsagents are also closing.


Hundreds of people have lost their jobs and many others have experienced significant reductions in working hours. Such changes have the greatest impact on the most prominent demographic represented among nightlife employees: young people.

What makes it worse is that it is not at all clear that lockout laws are a permanent solution to the problem of alcohol-related violence. A 2014 Australian Institute of Criminology study concluded that lockout laws have mixed or uncertain results. In Melbourne their implementation in 2008 led to an increase in assaults between midnight and 4am, and they were ditched three months later.

What worked in Victoria was increased resources and power for the Liquor Licensing Board to shut down problem areas, incentive-based programs for venues to take responsible service of alcohol seriously, increased access to late night public transport services, coupled with greater police presence on the streets.

Sydney’s experience certainly confirms lockouts have an impact. Although many of the problems previously seen in Kings Cross are now appearing in other suburbs, there has been an overall reduction in violence since lockouts were introduced. However, a major contributor to the decline in Kings Cross has been an 84 per cent reduction in footpath congestion.

What is not clear is whether better results might have been achieved without wreaking carnage on the economy of Kings Cross. Is it really necessary to destroy Sydney’s late-night culture in order to save it from alcohol-induced violence? Are the people of Sydney so different from those of Melbourne and other international cities that the only way to keep the peace is to lock them out of clubs and bars?

If 200 people in an ailing car factory were about to lose their jobs, politicians would be angling for taxpayer subsidies to prop up their employer. By contrast, hospitality, tourism, and sex workers are apparently expendable while their employers – pubs, bars, restaurants, strip-clubs – are written off as “vested interests”.

A Centrelink face-off between the unemployed and the doctors who helped put them there may be revealing. It would not only serve to remind everyone of the mess lockouts have made of Sydney’s nightlife, but also remind those who spend a lot of time whingeing about their jobs just how lucky they are.

From The Australian Financial Review, 19 February 2016.