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Redfern Legal Centre submission on AFZ's

This is a copy of the RLC's submission to the City ofg Sydney regarding the introduction of AFZ's in Redfern Waterloo.

Ms Clover Moore MP
Lord Mayor, City of Sydney
GPO Box 1591
Sydney 2001                                                                                         26 April 2006

Dear Ms Moore,

Re: Proposal to establish alcohol free zones

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to comment on the alcohol free zone proposal. Local residents are understandably and genuinely concerned about the anti social behaviour that accompanies street drinking. However, we do not believe that this proposal will adequately address this problem. We make the following observations:

1. The proposal does not address fears arising from illegal drug use and supply. The recent increase in the use of certain kinds of illegal substance which cause highly aggressive and irrational behaviour is more likely to lead to the kind of dangerously anti-social behaviour local residents understandably wish to be protected from. Alcohol-free zones  will remove the least dangerous but most visible source of fear and harm but unnecessarily divert resources and attention from  more serious problems.

2. It would not deter alcohol users from drinking in the area.

Street drinkers are not going to cease consumption of alcohol as a result of the establishment of alcohol-free zones. If the aim is to achieve this outcome then properly resourced and culturally appropriate detoxification and rehabilitation facilities  should be provided. The overt prohibition approach is likely only to have the effect of  causing drinkers to hide in less conspicuous spaces such as stairwells, lift wells, car parks or alleys. This can in fact be more intimidating to passers-by as they cannot anticipate where drinkers are hidden and thus are unable to avoid them.

It may also serve merely to relocate the problem to nearby streets. Unless all public places are dealt with in the same way this strategy would appear to be discriminatory. Some local residents receive the ‘benefit’ of an alcohol free zone on their street while others do not.

3. It would impede access to support services

Street drinkers are often in poor health and need access to emergency and community services. If they are less visible as a result of  being prohibited from using public places there is a risk that ambulances, transport services such as Missionbeat, temporary shelter and  food services will not be able to contact them. The result will be more ill, more neglected and more dependent people to care for, as well as the public health risks caused by the spread of untreated diseases.

4. It criminalizes a passive state rather than an active behaviour

The problem is not alcohol itself but anti-social behaviour. Some people will be drinking within the prohibition zone but not displaying anti-social behaviour, for example having a beer at a barbecue in an open area. It is likely that police attention will not be drawn to such an activity though it is technically identical to the actions of a habitual drinker clutching a bottle in a brown paper bag.

It is likely therefore that the rule will be applied selectively based on unacknowledged and untestable criterion about the level of harm or threat to the amenity of the area. The history of policing using ill-defined discretions tends to show that even with no overt hostile intent the risk of discriminatory application is high. There is especially  high risk in relation to Aboriginal people and for people with mental illness or intellectual disability.

5. It distracts the community from finding a real solution

Residents are justifiably concerned about the amenity of their neighbourhood and have the right to live in safe and friendly environments. However the establishment of alcohol-free zones is likely to have the sole effect of increasing the rate of negative interactions between street drinkers and police with no appreciable increase in the pleasantness of the surrounding area.

Instead of a law and order focus, a genuine effort to address the issues would start with a commitment to provide appropriate services to assist street drinkers to improve their lifestyles. Secure housing, medical care, detoxification and rehabilitation services are sadly lacking. Services addressing the needs of those who are also mentally ill and/or have an illicit drug addiction are also neglected.

That is not to suggest that police should avoid intervention in response to anti-social behaviour. Properly resourced policing is essential to the amenity of the neighbourhood and is a service to which local residents should expect to be entitled. However in this instance a law and order response is unlikely to be effective.

Yours sincerely,                                                            

Helen Campbell,                                                                       
Executive Officer