The problem with Kings Cross

The problem with Kings Cross is that the “solutions” offered are a bit shit.

I want to start by saying that I feel for Thomas Kelly’s family. They must be devastated. I also feel for Patrick Crowe’s family – the young man killed in Parramatta early Sunday morning. Journalists haven’t been nearly as verbose about his death because, you know, Parramatta is a bit far from their newsrooms.

Both deaths are heart-breaking for their friends and family. And it’s sad that when someone dies in the Cross, there will be some public hand-wringing from the usual suspects for a few weeks (journalists all tend to interview the same people), and then we’re back to business as usual.

There are a couple of things I want to point out about what’s been reported today. First, this bit in this SMH article, Mayor presents shuttle train idea to rush weekend crowds out of violent Cross:

There are more than 20,000 people in Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross, on a Saturday night between 11pm and 3am, the council’s research found. It reported an average of 40 assaults, fights or other serious incidents every Friday and Saturday night.

So, we’re talking about 0.2 per cent. Less than half a per cent, and – I’m guessing – that includes people who need patching up after stacking it. So, while that is serious for the people involved and the police and emergency departments who have deal with it, I think we need to keep in mind that at least 19,960 people go to one very small area every Saturday night, get really drunk, take drugs, and carry on as only really wasted people can do, all without bashing someone or ending up in hospital. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

(While on the topic of perspective, in 2004–05, the total cost of alcohol-related crime in Australia was $1.7 billion. That’s total crime, not just violence. It’s worth keeping in mind that violence against women and children costs $13.6 billion a year, yet I don’t see it on the front page for days.)

The other thing is this comment from Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch:

“Young men go out with the intention of belting someone. They haven’t had a good night out unless they have been in a fight,” he said.

“Whether that’s them marking their territory or trying to prove how tough they are, that never used to happen. People used to go out, have a drink, have a good time and go home.”

It’s a big call he’s making, and I call bullshit. Alcohol-related violence is not a new thing. After all, the Temperance Union of Australia was established in 1891. And it was alcohol-related violence almost a decade ago that started the push for the small bars legislation, yet we’re still having a simplistic response to the violence.

Anyway, back to the “solutions“.

First up is running a train from Kings Cross to Town Hall after midnight. This is a shit idea. When you’re drunk, you just want to get home. You’re not going to wait for a train, travel two stops, then climb out of Town Hall station, then wait for a Night Ride bus on George St, with hundreds of other people all doing the same thing. It will just move the problem from Darlinghurst Road to George Street and fuck knows George Street has its own problems.

Secondly, the pre-paid option for taxis. This is also a shit idea. If you’re really drunk, the driver will just say they couldn’t find you and then pick up someone who seems less drunk. Besides, have you seen the number of people on the street in the Cross on the weekend? As if a bunch of cab drivers calling out names is going to be any real solution. It’s also going to stop traffic moving smoothly. Lucy Turnbull’s idea of a 20-25 per cent surcharge on fares to get more taxis in the Cross is also shit. There’s no major shortage of taxis there, other than at 3am when it’s impossible to get one anywhere. ManFriend and I were at a wanky bar in the Cross on Friday night. (Our alcohol bill for eight was $1000, by the way.) We had no trouble getting taxis because we’re in our 30s. Other nights I’ve been in the Cross, I’ve seen cab after cab drive past the young drunk people to pick up older passengers. Which is the driver’s call, of course. It is a risk to pick up a really drunk person, because alcohol can make people do things they wouldn’t do while sober. They might bash and rob you. They might do a runner. They might spew in the cab. And goodness knows that when I was in my 20s I had a cheeky spew out the window on a few occasions. Or out the car door when stopped at the lights. (And, of course, there’s the risk that the driver will attack you. I’ve been attacked by a cabbie.)

The third option being presented is to limit the number of venues. This is a shit idea, because it gets us back to where we were five years ago: big venues, more violence.

The thing is, none of the solutions being offered actually address the two real problems underneath it all.

The first is that some people get violent when drunk. I don’t know why that is, but it is. Why is there no public discussion – involving experts, not politicians and the Australian Hotels Association – about why alcohol makes some people violent, and what we can do to stop it? (I’m talking long-term cultural change here.)

The second is that I think we can all agree that the RSA certificate is useless. When’s the last time you saw someone drunk get cut off?

You know, we don’t need to reinvent the fucking wheel here. We’re not the only country that has tried to change their drinking culture. In 2006, researchers in the UK compared the party areas of London, Dublin, Berlin and Copenhagen – all beer-drinking cities in northern Europe that have tried to emulate the drinking cultures of Mediterranean countries (reference below). The researchers found that Berlin and Copenhagen didn’t have problems with alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour because there was more regulation, not less. In Copenhagen, police and city council officers inspected up to 30 premises a night, checking that drunken customers weren’t being served. Turns out that warnings, fines and the threat of police veto on license renewals did more for the responsible service of alcohol than the RSA certificate has done. Gee, there’s a shock.

Roberts, M., Turner, C., Greenfield, S., & Osborn, G. (2006), ‘A continental ambience? Lessons in managing alcohol-related evening and night-time entertainment from four European capitals’, Urban Studies, vol. 43, no. 7, pp. 1105-1125.

9 responses to “The problem with Kings Cross

  1. Agree on everything except the last point. RSA measures in NSW are similar to the schemes in Copenhagen and Berlin, including compulsory police inspections, and have real teeth.

    Special licensing measures (which are based on statistical data about assaults, not on any actual observation of wrongdoing by the management) are the most obvious example, but there are many others.

    When I lived in the UK, I don’t think I ever saw anyone denied entry to a pub (as opposed to a club that was doing it primarily for face-control) due to drunkenness, and only saw people thrown out if they were violent or unconscious. Same in Dublin and New York.

    In NSW, I’ve seen scores of people turned away by door staff for ‘intoxication’, and many more removed by door staff from inside the pub. It’s happened to me a few times – even on occasions when I’ve been a bit pissed rather than full-on trolleyed.

    I suspect the real answer is “it’ll always happen a bit in any community whose culture is Northern European-descended, but it’s basically OK; the puritan community will always pretend it’s a major problem; hopefully, the rest of us won’t let them drag us back to prohibition, 6pm closing and bans on bottle shops…”

    • I agree. I don’t think people getting drunk is a bad thing. In fact, I did it last night and will do it again tonight.

      You know, I’ve rarely seen police inspections in pubs and bars. Only a handful. Doesn’t mean they don’t happen, but I don’t think it happens as frequently as it’s supposed to.

      • Maybe that reflects our different locals of choice! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the cops in a small bar, but pretty much every time I’ve been for a summer weekend afternoon session in one of the big pubs round my way (Eastern Suburbs, so the Tea Gardens, Beach Road, Coogee Bay) there’s been a routine police visit at some point during the day. And, occasionally though more rarely, a /dedicated/ police visit…

        • I imagine it’s because they tend to visit bigger places where violence has been reported previously. My understanding of the Copenhagen system is that you can expect a weekly visit, regardless of history.

  2. I think Paul Keating’s being a bit rude too, essentially blaming Clover Moore for what is the issue of hypermasculinity and male violence. Limiting the number of bars just wouldn’t help; people will just drink more/faster in the places that are available to them. If the council had tried to block more small bar licence applications no doubt Clover Moore would have been accused of being anti-business.

    It’s also funny to think of this as being framed as some kind of emerging problem. At the time of 6pm closing, men would routinely piss on the floor of the pubs or in their pants, rather than lose their place at the bar. Those weird little trough structures that you still see around some bars were piss troughs. Some publicans put sawdust on the floor every day- and this was considered normative!

    • Hell yes about Keating. I read that in the SMH this morning and thought the same thing.

      And yes, it IS weird that it’s being presented as a new problem. Weirder still that with all our experience of drunkenness, the public discussion is still about the same measures. I wonder how much of it is due to Australian journalists using the conflict model of reporting, in which you need quotes from two directly opposing sides in order to make a balanced story. This means there’s no room for nuance in our public discussion, so we never get further than one side saying “small bars change the drinking culture” and the other side saying “let’s shut down the drinking venues”.

  3. That was a really informative read, thanks. Agree with you about getting perspective.

  4. Really informative thanks.

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