THIS year’s Mardi Gras will remain safe from new nightlife lockout laws but mandatory sentencing laws for one-punch fatal attacks will come into effect across NSW this weekend.

From April, the legislation will see most venues in Sydney’s CBD, including LGBTI venues on Oxford St, have to abide by 1.30am lockouts and a new rule preventing the sale of alcohol after 3am. Bottle shops across NSW will also be forced to close by 10pm each night.

Legislation to deal with ‘alcohol-fuelled violence’ was rushed through both houses of NSW Parliament this week after being recalled by Premier Barry O’Farrell on Wednesday following heavy media attention on a number of highly publicised one-punch attacks across Sydney’s entertainment night spots. The laws passed with the support of the Labor Opposition despite several misgivings over their implementation.

The death of teenager Daniel Christie – after he was punched in Kings Cross on New Year’s Eve near the exact spot 18-year-old Thomas Kelly was killed in July 2012 – had galvanised community pressure upon the NSW Government to act over the string of night-time assaults.

The suite of new laws will see an eight-year minimum mandatory sentence for any person convicted of an alcohol or drug-fuelled assault resulting in death while persons accused of assaults will no longer be able to use voluntary intoxication as a mitigating factor during court hearings.

“[This] will make our streets safer by introducing new measures to tackle drug and alcohol related violence,” O’Farrell told parliament.

“The NSW government has heard the community’s call for action.”

Under the government’s proposals, a person is considered to be drunk if their blood-alcohol concentration is above 0.15 per cent.

Under the bills, police will now have powers to immediately ban ‘troublemakers’ from the CBD and Kings Cross while on-the-spot fines for disorderly behaviour has increased from $200 to $1,100.

Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich told parliament he held great concerns over the effectiveness of mandatory sentencing as well as worries that the legislation was reactive and not addressing the root causes of alcohol-related assaults such as the lack of late-night public transport.

“I’m concerned about the impact the lockouts will have on future Mardi Gras, Vivid and other major events and festivals. Large numbers of international and interstate tourists visit Sydney during our festival seasons, and forcing large numbers of guests on to the street is bad for tourism and could increase police and transport burdens,” Greenwich said.

“I have proposed to the Minister for Tourism, Major Events, Hospitality and Racing that consideration be given to allow venues associated with hallmark events determined by Destination NSW and in consultation with local Police Commands and councils to apply for trading hour extensions. I appreciate the Minister’s willingness to discuss this further.”

A forum on mandatory sentencing held at NSW Parliament on Wednesday evening involving representatives of the NSW Bar Association, the Council of Civil Liberties and the former head of the Department of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, heard about strong concerns the prison population could increase by more than 1000 people every year.

‘”Reactionary law and order policies never work and regrettably, as will occur in this case, will be demonstrated to be a failure,” Arthur Moses, SC, a member of the Bar Council of NSW, told Fairfax Media.

“The real focus has to be being tough on the causes of crime, which means providing resources to the NSW police force and going on the attack against crime gangs as well as other underlying issues associated with crime.”

Figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research show the rate of alcohol-related assaults in New South Wales has been declining since 2008 and are at their lowest since 2002, with 184.8 assaults per 100,000 people per year. The Sydney metropolitan area has also seen a similar decline since 2008.

 

 

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