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CBD drinkers face lockouts, bans as Govt clamps down on booze

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Stringent restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol are due to come into force across New South Wales next week as part of action to try to curb drunken violence and drink-related harm.

Rules including a statewide ban on bottleshop sales after 10pm, and 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks at venues within the Sydney CBD and King Cross come into force from 24 February after NSW Parliament approved a package of measures devised following a spate of high-profile and deadly assaults in the State during the Christmas-New Year festive period.

But, in a potential boon for smaller operators, the restrictions will only apply to venues licensed to hold more than 60 patrons.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said his Government made “no apologies” for the tough legislation, which also includes a freeze on new liquor licenses for the Sydney CBD and the introduction of temporary bans for known troublemakers from the Sydney CBD Entertainment Precinct.

“Recent violent incidents have demanded strong action – the NSW Government is determined to put in place these measures as soon as possible to make out streets safer and tackle drug and alcohol abuse in our community,” Mr O’Farrell said.

The AMA has welcomed the tough new restrictions, but has warned that it is only part a much more comprehensive approach required to tackle the nation’s drinking problem.

Late last month the AMA called for a National Summit on the misuse of alcohol that brought together governments, medical and health experts, the police, industry, community leaders and parent groups to discuss practical action to curb excessive drinking and the harm caused by alcohol.

AMA Vice President Professor Geoffrey Dobb said there needed to be a fundamental shift in attitudes toward alcohol, and NSW President Professor Brian Owler warned that although the NSW Government measures were pleasing, it would be a mistake to consider it to be “just a law and order issue”.

The Federal Government has so far been non-committal about convening an alcohol Summit, which has been embraced by Opposition leader Bill Shorten. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said alcohol regulation was fundamentally a State responsibility.

The Summit proposal has been attacked by sections of the alcohol industry. Brewing giant CUB told The Age it was a “standard tactic  of the anti-alcohol lobby”, while a Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia spokesman said the issues involved were “incredibly complex”, and a summit involving “grandstanding speeches” would not provide enduring solutions.

But the AMA’s concerns were underlined by research showing that many adults are ignorant of the health risks posed by alcohol, and how much it is safe to drink.

A study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health earlier this month found that just one in five adults were aware of National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines that it is unsafe to consume more than two standard drinks a day.

Disturbingly, the study – based on a survey of 2700 people – found that almost 22 per cent drank at levels that exceeded the NHMRC’s recommendation.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said it was also very concerning that many pregnant women were drinking.

A study published in the journal PLOS One found that many women continued to drink, often at dangerous levels, even after discovering they were pregnant.

The University of Newcastle study of 1577 women found that 55 per cent of women who reported binge drinking (defined as consuming five or more drinks in one session) before becoming pregnant did not change their behaviour once they found they were carrying a baby.

Just 16 per cent of women who reported binge drinking before becoming pregnant said they had given up alcohol during their pregnancy.

Dr Hambleton said there was no safe level of drinking during pregnancy, and advised expectant mothers to abstain from alcohol altogether.

The AMA President also backed suggestions that packaged alcoholic beverages carry health warning labels.

Adrian Rollins