By Andrew Reid, Dr Alison Ziller and Dr John Crozier
This commentary examines the adequacy of the NSW Liquor and Gaming LiveData website in providing evidence to assist decision making about liquor licences and trading hours.
On 4 May 2020, Liquor and Gaming NSW [L&GNSW] invited feedback on the draft Liquor Amendment (24-hour Economy) Bill. The aim of the Bill, once COVID-19 restrictions are eased, is to ‘create a vibrant and safe 24-hour economy with risk-based liquor laws that support business’. Among the proposed changes is ‘a refined evidence-based approach to help manage the density of licensed premises, and associated risks of alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour, in areas of high venue concentration’. The draft Bill says that the Authority may prepared an ‘evidence-based’ cumulative impact assessment.
In December 2019, L&GNSW introduced a trial version of its LiveData site, which ‘is an online tool that allows you to search the latest liquor licence information alongside demographic, alcohol-related crime and health data for every suburb and Local Government Area in NSW’. There are, however, a number of significant flaws in the LiveData tool. We showcase several of these here with reference to the NSW suburb of Miller.
The Live Data evidence profile and the Miller suburb
The community of Miller
Miller suburb is located in Liverpool LGA. In 2016, Miller had a population of 3,237 people, an unemployment rate of 15.5% more than double that of NSW (6.3%), 3.9% of the population were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, 43.4% of Miller residents were in social housing, many with multiple and complex needs. Miller remains one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged suburbs in the state with the SEIFA Index of Relative Social Disadvantage [IRSD] score of 701 in 2016.
The LiveData profile
The LiveData site does not provide the SEIFA IRSD score, preferring instead the SEIFA Index of Relative Advantage and Disadvantage. It notes that Miller is in the bottom 1% of NSW households but Liverpool LGA is in the top 38% . Presenting this information suggests that the LGA is not too badly off and the suburb score is unusual. However, Miller is one of a cluster of highly disadvantaged suburbs in the relatively large Liverpool LGA.
Alcohol outlet density in Miller
The suburb of Miller has 2 packaged liquor outlets and 1 hotel. These are located in Miller town centre in a Statistical Areas Level 1 (SA1) quadrant of approximately 280 households belonging to the lowest 1 percent of the most disadvantaged quintile in NSW.
The LiveData profile
Alcohol outlet density is described on the LiveData site as outlet saturation and outlet clustering. Overall alcohol outlet saturation (number of outlets per 100,000 residents) is reported as lower in Miller suburb (61.8) compared to NSW as a whole (201.9) and Major Cities of Australia (NSW) (176.8) averages. However, the overall rate conceals the fact that for each of the years shown the alcohol outlet saturation rate for the licence types actually present in Miller presents a quite different profile. For example, in 2019 the saturation rate for hotels in Miller, major cities and NSW as a whole was 30.9, 19.1 and 28.5 respectively . The saturation rates for outlets authorised to sell packaged liquor was virtually the same for Miller 61.8 as for major cities (62.3) and significantly higher than the rate for Liverpool as a whole (34).
Public health profile in Miller
Since 1999, hazardous drinking in public spaces in Miller has been a significant concern. The last Miller Household Survey (2010) found 70.6 percent of the 301 people surveyed felt that drug and alcohol problems divided people in their neighbourhood a bit or a lot. While most of the respondents reported good health overall, average scores on standardised physical and mental health assessments showed the sample was well below other Australian norms (CHETRE, 2010).
This issue has taken on a new urgency with the arrival of COVID-19 and the reporting of differential incidence of the virus, with residents of low-income areas at greater risk. There is concern that lockdown restrictions are associated with increased drinking, gambling and domestic violence.
LiveData health profile
The LiveData site reports alcohol attributable deaths in Liverpool LGA for the two years to 2015/16 and alcohol attributable hospitalisations to the two years to 2017/18. While alcohol attributable deaths declined in the reported period, alcohol attributable hospitalisations rose. The two charts (9 and 10) on the LiveData site have a similar format and would be easy to misread as being on the same scale (vertical axis) whereas the number of deaths is on a scale of 17.5 – 21.0 per annum while the number of hospitalisations is on a scale of 350 – 600 p.a.. Alcohol-attributable hospitalisations are increasing in Liverpool as well as NSW as a whole.
Risk of gambling related harm in Miller
Environmental factors, such as locational disadvantage, significantly influence gambling outcomes. In one US study, neighbourhood disadvantage was linked to a 69% increased odds of exhibiting a gambling problem and eight additional gambling occasions. Australian research has found gambling increased with risky alcohol consumption for all gamblers during a single visit to a gambling venue. That is, gambling is part of the health profile of hotels.
The LiveData gambling profile
LiveData does not provide information about gambling. However, gambling is a significant source of profit for hotels in NSW and the late trading hotel in Miller has its full complement of 30 gaming machines. There are 345 gaming machines in venues in Liverpool LGA. Data available to Liquor and Gaming NSW and provided in part on another L&GNSW site (reveals that in 2019, each machine was making an average $227,127 profit per annum. On this basis, the hotel in Miller would have made [$227,127 x 30 =] $6,813,820 in gaming profit in 2019. A particularly significant loss for the local community.
Assault and violence in Miller
The non-domestic assault rate in Miller for the year to December 2019 was 1462.0 per 100 000 population. NSW as a whole had a rate of 403.2. The domestic assault rate in Miller for the year to December 2019 was 877.2, while the NSW rate was 390.4. All three alcohol establishments in Miller are located within a ‘hotspot’ for these incidents of assault which has persisted for many years.
The assault and violence LiveData profile
The LiveData site has charts (5 & 6) for alcohol-related domestic and non-domestic assault for Miller, Liverpool LGA, major cities and NSW as a whole . Both charts show significant declines in these crimes in Miller in the last two years while the rates for the LGA, major cities and the State show small changes. These charts do not present the significantly adverse data available on the BOCSAR website and summarised above. This is because, the charts use only those assaults recorded by police as alcohol-related. BOCSAR notes these rates cannot be relied on. The net effect of using these unreliable data is to present a misleading picture of these crimes in a suburb where their incidence is significant.
LiveData is presented as a useful source of information for liquor licence applicants and members of local communities alike. However, these are unlikely bedfellows. The information on the site appears more favourable to licence applicants than to local residents, as shown above for the suburb of Miller, namely:
- The community profile fails to report the most relevant measure of social disadvantage – a measure known to correlate with alcohol-related harm.
- Outlet saturation is presented in aggregate concealing concerning rates of density for the licence types actually in the suburb.
- Crime data is treated selectively, minimising the number of domestic and non-domestic assaults in the suburb by reporting only those assaults recorded as alcohol related — notwithstanding the known limitations to the data presented and the high rates of assault actually occurring.
- Data on gaming machine losses in the local hotel is omitted entirely.
- Health data for the LGA is presented in visually similar charts with such different scales as to render them non-comparable.
- NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority [ILGA] decisions’ greater reliance on crime data rather than health data is not mentioned, nor that there is no epidemiological basis for this.
There is growing evidence to suggest the adverse impact of increasing liquor licenses and extended trading hours in disadvantaged communities. It is of significant concern that the LiveData site being trialled by Liquor and Gaming NSW fails to signal these risks. A data source that cannot signal risk in the case of a community as disadvantaged as Miller, cannot be relied on.
Andrew Reid is a Research Officer at The Centre for Health Equity Training Research and Evaluation (CHETRE). Andrew is also the Chair of the Liverpool Community Drug Action Team (CDAT).
Dr Alison Ziller is a Lecturer in the Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University.
Dr John Crozier is a vascular and endovascular surgeon. He is appointed as Visiting Medical Officer to Liverpool Hospital. Dr John Crozier is the current Chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ national trauma committee.
Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation. (2010). Miller Household Survey (pp. 1-72). Liverpool, NSW: CHETRE