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Melbourne Lord Mayor letter - Planning - April 2011

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12th April 2011

Lord Mayor & Councillors

City of Melbourne

GPO Box 1603        

MELBOURNE         3001

Dear Cr Doyle

SUBMISSION: COUNCIL’S POLICIES ON LICENSED PREMISES IRRATIONAL

The Australian Sex Party, although only a year old, is rapidly becoming a force in Australian politics as evidenced by results in the Federal, Victorian and NSW elections where our votes tally was the fourth highest behind the Greens.

This is because we stand for the civil rights and freedom of adults, and genuine protection of children. Australian voters are rightly concerned by the hypocrisy of Governments in pandering to religious and conservative lobby groups, and the consequent erosion of their rights by ill informed rhetoric and over-regulation.

Unfortunately, you appeared to be guilty of this same hypocrisy if you were interpreted correctly in the quote in last week’s Sunday Age article, Bright Lights Filthy City: Doyle is hopeful the growth of the city will eventually subsume the [ King Street Strip Club ] strip; either that or a wind back of late-night licences”

This is clear evidence of moral prejudice without any basis in fact. The adult industry in Australia is very responsible and very safe. While strip clubs are very safe places to patronise, the same cannot be said of religious institutions.

All available research and statistics, both local and international suggest that strip clubs have the lowest ratio of incidents for comparable categories of licensed premises.

A recent US scientific study (Peep Show Establishments, Police Activity, Public Place, and Time: A Study of Secondary Effects in San Diego California: Daniel Linz; Bryant Paul; Mike Z Yao; Richard McCleary; James W Meeker -  The Journal of Sex; May 2006; 43, 2; Academic Research Library pg. 182)  found the presence of strip clubs did not increase the number of crime incidents reported in localized areas surrounding the club as compared to the number of crime incidents reported in comparable localized areas that did not contain an adult venue.

In fact, the analyses implied the opposite, namely that areas surrounding strip clubs have smaller numbers of reported crime incidents than do corresponding areas surrounding the three control sites studied.

In contrast, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research recently indicated that in 2008 people were nearly 6 times at risk of becoming a victim of crime in a church than in a strip club (source Sunday Telegraph April 11, 2010 article:  “Aussies safer in a strip club than a church figures show”)

Religious institutions are potentially very dangerous for children. Since 1990 media reports of court cases had shown nearly 1,000 church clergy had been dealt with for child sex abuse alone, and this is only the cases that have come to public light. As there are only 20,000 church clergy in Australia, this represents at least one in 20 priests, a staggering figure. In contrast, Court reports over the same period indicate that no one from Australia’s sex industry has been charged or indicted in a child sex abuse case (source: media release Australian Sex Party 2nd August 2010: Sex Party and Family First Agree to Royal Commission)

Despite this evidence, conservative and ill-informed prejudicial beliefs seem to be behind the actions of State and Local Governments in their drive to demonise and close down late night entertainment precincts.

Unfortunately, Council also seems to be quite schizophrenic in its policies on late night entertainment precincts.

On the one hand Council is quite rightly promoting Melbourne as a vibrant 24 hour City[1] but is on the other hand quite irrationally slowly strangling the very industry which contributes most to its vibrancy, and is Melbourne’s major tourist drawcard.

This latter objective is very evident in recently published planning guidelines for licensed premises which aim to restrict new or redeveloped licensed premises to a capacity of 100 patrons and a ridiculous closing time of no later than 1am.

The State Government has recently of course extended the moratorium on new late night licences for a further 2 years so it could be argued that the planning issue is somewhat academic at this point in time, but this is not the case.

It is the false rationale behind both the Council and State Government’s decisions that is the critical issue here, and this will quite likely lead to further ill informed policy decisions if not urgently recognised and redressed.

One of the myths being perpetuated is that Council and the State Government has adopted these planning policies because of the proliferation of large nightclubs. This is totally false.

Melbourne has only a handful of large nightclubs and these will typically trade only one or two nights a week, and average a per capita sale of 2.5 drinks per head per night. Rather than encourage people to drink to excess, these large venues ‘sell social space’ and are the only venues that can provide quality entertainment, dance floors and a variety of spaces for patrons to mingle. They are also very safe, with state of the art security, which makes them very attractive to female patrons.

Whilst smaller bars are an important part of the social scene, they cannot retain patrons for any length of time, and this results in more people in the street, or ‘bar hopping’ as it has been labelled. Whilst the streets are not as bad as the tabloid media would have you believe, this is where people are most at risk and is why we need a strong police and security presence.

Another myth is that it is the growth in the number of licensed premises that has led to increased violence in the streets of the CBD. Again this is false. Melbourne’s streets are relatively safe and Council’s own surveys indicate that 87% of City Visitors feel safe. Across Victoria less than 2% of all assaults are associated with late night entertainment precincts, and street assaults in the CBD have recently decreased by at least 18% due to a more effective police presence. By contrast around 40% of violence occurs in the home.

What violence has occurred has been due to Government and Council policy failings, namely:

Victoria Police abandoned the City’s Streets for several years

Council has failed to cover police inadequacies by investing in private security despite successful trials in the 1990s and continued lobbying from the hospitality industry

Victoria Police and Council has failed to stop people buying liquor from late night convenience stores and bottle shops and drinking in the streets (again to quote from last week’s Sunday Age article: “You can tell a lot about a city by its garbage. Melbourne is a party town and the evidence - discarded fast-food containers, booze and energy drink bottles, cigarette butts and packs - is everywhere”).

The fundamental driving forces for a 24 hour City policy should be:

Allowing the hospitality industry to respond to the rapid growth in demand both from population growth and visitors

Providing the resources and infrastructure to cope with increased growth and demand

Promoting a better understanding of Melbourne’s vibrant late night scene so that policy decisions are made on an informed basis, and not populist, moral, or ideological biases

To reiterate, reducing the number of licensed premises will not reduce the number of people coming into the City.

There will simply come a time when existing licensed premises cannot satisfy demand, resulting in more frustrated people waiting in queues or wandering the streets.

Private house parties and drinking in the street will become more prevalent, as will litter and associated problems. Violence and anti social behaviour will increase as a consequence.

Strangling the hospitality industry will have flow on effects for the live music industry, and investment in other forms of entertainment. The quality of sound and lighting and venue presentation will diminish as there will be no incentive to invest by established venues because of lack of competition.

The CBD is the logical place for late night entertainment. The CBD’s population of approximately 19,000 is predominantly young with the average resident age under 30. Melbourne attracts around 1,500,000 international tourists each year of which backpackers are the biggest component[2]. We attract huge numbers of international students, and there are very limited entertainment options for young people in the suburbs, other than pokies.

All of these young adults need safe, quality environments where they can socialise, release stress, meet friends and prospective partners. Without such environments, both the physical and mental health of these young people will be at much greater risk.

These are the young adults who are now looking for alternative leadership, and are the reason the Australian Sex Party has rapidly risen to a position of such prominence in the current political and social climate.

I urge Council to urgently review its policy position on licensed premises, adopt a genuine 24 hour City Policy, encourage competition and diversity, support civil liberties, and work with the State Government to ensure that there is adequate investment in night time infrastructure.

I am more than happy to meet with you to discuss these issues at greater length.

Yours sincerely

Fiona Patten

Convenor Australian Sex Party

fpatten@sexparty.org.au

0413 734 613

www.sexparty.org.au

[1] For example Council has just published its draft Melbourne’s Strategy for a Safer City 2011-13 and the key goals are: Goal 1. People are proud of Melbourne, are able to actively participate in city life and share responsibility for Melbourne’s reputation as a liveable city; and Goal 2. A stimulating and safe 24 hour city

[2] In 2007, 18.0 per cent of all international visitors to Victoria were backpackers contributing close to $500 million to the local economy. Backpacker visitors tend to stay longer and spend more than the average international visitor. Source: Victorian Backpacker Tourism Action Plan 2009–2013