LIRC member, Associate Professor Julia Quilter, spoke recently with about recent moves by Sydney City Council to remove 62 Alcohol Free Zones (AFZs) in and around the city.

Drawing on previous work with Professor Luke McNamara (UNSW Law, and Visiting Professorial Fellow, LIRC), in this blog she explains what AFZs and Alcohol Prohibited Areas (APAs) are, where they came from and what powers they give to council officers and police.

In 1979 public intoxication was formally decriminalised but it wasn’t long before governments introduced alternative ways of regulating public drinking.

Since the passage of the Local Government (Street Drinking) Amendment Act 1990, local councils across NSW have taken advantage of the powers that now exist to declare certain public areas to be ‘no drinking zones’. Under the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW), these are formally divided into AFZs and APAs. AFZs can cover roads, footpaths and carparks whereas APAs can be declared in parks and reserves. Originally, it was an offence to consume alcohol in these areas and police could impose a fine. In 2008 the offence was abolished and the legislation today only provides for the power to confiscate the alcohol.

Under Guidelines produced by the NSW Government these ‘no drinking zones’ are designed ‘to prevent disorderly behaviour caused by the consumption of alcohol in public areas in order to improve public safety’, and are ‘an early intervention measure to prevent the escalation of irresponsible street drinking to incidents involving serious crime’.

Over the years many councils and Police Local Area Commands have interpreted these Guidelines broadly, resulting in large numbers of ‘no drinking zones’ covering very large areas in some cases. For example, Wollongong City Council has declared a single AFZ that includes all streets, roads and carparks in the entire CBD, inner city residential and beachside areas.

The recent move by the Sydney City Council needs to be seen in the context of how AFZs and APAs have been used in the past. The proposal for a reduction in the number of sites where public drinking is banned seems to us to be a genuine attempt to: apply the criteria contained in the Government’s Guidelines; take into account evidence of a reduction of alcohol-related assaults; and be sensitive to the needs of vulnerable groups, especially homeless people.

For a more detailed account see our article published in the Sydney Law Review

Associate Professor Julia Quilter

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