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Park lands dry zone set for two year extension

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Adelaide City Council proposes extending the park lands dry zone for a further two years, despite warnings from drug and alcohol services that the controversial policy has failed to reduce anti-social behaviour in the city.

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City councillors will next week be asked to support an extension of the park lands dry zone until September 2021, with the council’s administration arguing there has not been any evidence to warrant the policy’s removal.

According to council papers, the level of alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour in the park lands has remained largely unchanged since 2017, with “public congregation”, socialising and drinking remaining an issue.

“It is difficult to know what the impacts will be if dry area restrictions are removed at this point,” the council papers state.

“Any proposed changes to existing dry area restrictions, either removal or extension, should be supported by evidence that those who are most likely impacted by the park lands dry area have safe and appropriate interventions to support their use of public space.

“There has not been new evidence to indicate that a change to alcohol restrictions is warranted.”

The city council and State Government imposed the restrictions – which ban the consumption of alcohol in the park lands between 8pm and 11 am – in 2014 in response to escalating alcohol-fuelled behaviour by large groups of people in the southern park lands.

But the policy was widely criticised by homeless advocates and drug and alcohol providers, who said the ban unfairly targeted Aboriginal people and those sleeping rough.

The council has also revealed that a senior officers’ group tasked with monitoring the effectiveness of the dry zone has not met in the last 12 months due to “changes in high level personnel”.

SA Network of Drug and Alcohol Services executive director Michael White told InDaily this morning dry zones were akin to “criminalising poverty” and had failed to reduce alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour in the city.

“It doesn’t solve the problem, it moves the problem,” he said.

“You get dispersal, which means that smaller groups go off and drink in different places and they’re harder to access in terms of getting interventions to them.

“Or, you might get a large group displacement where they move from the south park lands to the west park lands or the north park lands, so it just cycles around and it’s like moving the problem from my backyard to somebody else’s backyard.”

White said while the use of dry zones was appropriate for certain sections of the park lands, the restrictions unfairly targeted those sleeping rough.

“It’s appropriate to use dry zones for particular areas of the park lands – playgrounds, spaces which children use on a regular basis – but I think that should apply to everyone who uses those areas,” he said.

“What we’ve seen is that dry zones are created in hours that are not likely to interfere with ordinary people’s consumption of alcohol in these spaces.

“To just problematise people who drink later in the day… and overnight in those spaces is creating an unfair disadvantage.”

Uniting Communities advocacy manager Mark Henley agreed, telling InDaily dry zones were a simplistic solution to a complex problem.

“We’re not aware of any major improvements that the dry zone could be seen to have introduced,” he said.

“I think the council really should be reviewing the impacts of the dry zone, in particular on Indigenous communities culturally and socially.

“They should be considering what they have learnt from the dry zone, rather than just saying ‘ok, tick the box, another two years, let’s keep going’.”

Both White and Henley called on the council to consider extending the dry zone as part of a broader strategy to reduce alcohol consumption and homelessness in the CBD.

“What we’ve seen is that where dry zones are imposed, as a stand-alone intervention they don’t really do a lot other than just problematize things for vulnerable people that makes their lives worse, not better,” White said.

“This is a complex problem and dry zones are a simplistic solution.”

But the council’s participation and inclusion manager Caro Mader said the council was already liaising closely with government and non-government service providers about matters involving homelessness and vulnerability.

She said while activity relating to excessive alcohol consumption had fluctuated in number and location across the park lands and city since the dry zone was implemented, projects such as Adelaide Zero were leading to “meaningful change”.

“The recommendation (to extend the dry zone) is status quo as we have no evidence that removing the Park Lands Dry Area or increasing the time restrictions will assist in managing public space,” she said.

“We know that more work needs to be done to support vulnerable people and we are committed to doing that through the Adelaide Zero Project to End Homelessness.

“The Adelaide Zero Project is leading meaningful change and anticipated outcomes from that project have informed the decision to rollover the current arrangements for a further two years.”

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