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Local MP calls for street drinkers to be moved onto Wet Centres - SSH June 2006

The concept of Wet Centres to target street drinking has been raised as new Alcohol Free Zones (AFZs) are to be implemented in Redfern-Waterloo. Federal member for Heffron, Kristina Keneally, has raised the prospect of Wet Centres as an alternative strategy that could compliment Alcohol Free Zones reports Bill Birtles in the South Sydney Herald June 2006.

In April, the City of Sydney exhibited proposed AFZs on strategic streets throughout Sydney.

In Redfern, several streets were earmarked, including Redfern, Regent and George Streets. These areas are just part of a larger plan to introduce zones in parts of the CBD, Newtown and Leichhardt.

Established zones already exist in Surry Hills and Kings Cross.

While Ms Keneally strongly supports new AFZs, she told the SSH she would like to see more lateral thinking on dealing with street drinking. Wet Centres, Keneally says, could “support people who are street drinkers hopefully out of their addiction and into some sort of assistance.”

The idea was first put forward in a motion at the 2003 alcohol summit, co-sponsored by Keneally and Clover Moore. The summit didn’t endorse it. Three years on, Keneally says Lord Mayor Moore “could be a strong advocate for Wet Centres; indeed, I cannot see why the Council could not implement a Wet Centre in its own municipal area.”

Keneally used Redfern Park as an example of council-owned land that could be considered for a future trial. However, according to Cr Moore, “Drug services are a NSW Government responsibility” and “The Government took no action on the Summit’s recommendation to trial Wet Centres”.

Moore remains committed to the idea and said, “As Lord Mayor, I would examine seriously any specific proposals from the Redfern-Waterloo Authority or State Government for a Wet Centre.”

The proposed new AFZs have come about from police requests. Redfern-Waterloo Local Area Commander Catherine Burn said, “If [people] weren’t drinking alcohol in those areas, there would be less crime and less confrontation.”

However, critics say that AFZs move the problem of street drinking to other areas. In a submission to the Council, the Redfern Legal Centre said, “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.”

Burn responds, “it might move people from an area, but it will move them to an area where there is less likelihood of confrontation with members of the community”.

Aboriginal Housing Company CEO Mick Mundine said in a submission that streets drinkers will likely move “onto land owned by the AHC and the City of Sydney in the vicinity of The Block.”

According to ministerial guidelines, AFZs are best used as part of a larger program targeting irresponsible drinking. “Used in isolation they may only move the problem from one place to another,” the guidelines state.

If Wet Centres were introduced, they may provide a safe place for street drinkers to go instead.