‘Our society has a drinking problem’: One GP mourns lockout laws

Amanda Lyons

14/01/2020 3:15:20 PM

While many Sydneysiders celebrate the repeal of laws restricting alcohol consumption in the city, Dr Chris Davis sees it as a step backwards.

Dr Chris Davis.
Dr Chris Davis believes the repeal of Sydney’s lock out laws is a negative for public health.

Sydney’s lockout laws were officially lifted across the city this week, with the single exception of Kings Cross, where they will be reviewed by the NSW Government in 12 months.
The laws, which were enacted in 2014 to reduce alcohol-fuelled violence in the wake of a fatal one-punch assault in Kings Cross, sparked protests and accusations they were devastating Sydney’s night life and music scene. This view seemed further supported by a NSW Parliamentary Committee estimating the laws were costing Sydney’s night-time economy $16 billion a year.
Many Sydneysiders, such as Universal Hotels Group general manager Richie Haines, will be celebrating the repeal, which meant that on Tuesday night, Sydneysiders could enter venues in the central city after 1.30 am and order drinks until 3.30 am for the first time in five years.
‘Sydney’s narrative can go from being locked and closed for business ... to a city where an arts and entertainment scene can once again flourish and where people can enjoy themselves responsibly,’ Mr Haines told the Sydney Morning Herald.
But not everyone will be as pleased with the repeal of the laws, which have led to a 52.8% decrease in assaults.
One of those who is not happy to see the lockout laws go is Dr Chris Davis, a Sydney-based GP with a special interest in treating alcohol addiction.
‘I deal at the frontlines [of the problem], so every day I’m seeing families and patients affected by the damage that alcohol can do,’ Dr Davis told newsGP. ‘And I think anything which helps us talk about the damages that alcohol is doing and helps us question our drinking is really positive.
‘Our society has a drinking problem and it has to accept that, as a society, we need to drink less.’
Dr Davis understands that many perceived the lockout laws as a ‘nanny state’ type of initiative, but he believes they were actually a progressive public health measure.
‘Lockout laws have been a recommendation from Australian public health doctors since the 1970s,’ he said.
‘Drinking within certain hours and restricting access, using minimum unit pricing, all these things have been proven to work to reduce the dangers and the harms of alcohol.’
Dr Davis likens alcohol-related public health measures to those used against tobacco.
‘There is no health benefit to drinking. Alcohol is an addictive drug, it’s a cancer-causing, poisonous drug, effectively, very much in the same way that cigarettes are,’ he said.
‘People have always made the argument about passive smoking, but people are harmed by other people’s drunkenness all the time – car accidents, alcohol-related violence, verbal abuse, pollution on the streets, noise pollution.’
For Dr Davis, the repeal of the lockout laws is on a par with repealing the anti-smoking measures to which our society has become accustomed over time.
‘Initially, people were a bit resistant to banning smoking inside pubs and inside restaurants and on public transport,’ he said.
‘As we progress as a society, we now look back to those days when people were smoking on trains and buses as – I mean, that would be abhorrent to general society now.
‘For me, [repealing the lockout laws] is like re-introducing cigarette smoking in pubs. And I know that isn’t going to make me popular with my drinking friends, but with my doctor’s head on that’s absolutely how I see it.’
Dr Davis believes Australians need to investigate their relationship with alcohol, and question why it is perceived as so necessary to having a good time.
‘I think we should all be curious about why we feel we need to drink in the early hours of the morning,’ he said. ‘We need to be sober-curious and start really questioning our habits.
‘Is that extra hour of drinking adding to our quality of life as a society, or is it detracting?’
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Dr Horst Paul Herb   15/01/2020 8:11:02 AM

Yes, our society has a drinking problem. A serious one. But an even more serious problem is the lack of evidence informed policies and regulations - and there is very strong evidence that prohibition simple never has worked - anywhere on the planet, at any time in history. Just shifting the problem from one region to another is not a solution (CBD lockout laws...)

I m presently working on a remote island where daily alcohol fuelled violence is the norm, and the consequences of it the most common presentation in ED every single day. The island has had a total alcohol ban in time for years... people resorted to homebrew, fermenting anything fermentable in any type of container (since possession of home brewing equipment is prohibited too).

What we need is a cultural shift - most other nations do not ave the same alcohol problem we have, including nations where one can buy alcohol cheaply in any supermarket at any time of the day. Ample evidence that education actually works!

Dr Subodhani Sagarika Sirisena   26/01/2020 6:26:13 PM

Yes I agree that our society has a problem and restricting by law is not total answer.
We need to talk about the problem, how alcohol industry is advertising and portraying it as normal pleasure to widespread effects on an individual, family and society. Homelessness, cirrhosis, death , cancer, pancreatitis, diabetes , weight gain is so universal when you work in communities like SRS.
I think alcohol is celebrated rather than thought of it in its proper way. Society is brainwashed and sold on it almost from birth