Accords have been promoted by the Police and the alcohol industry as a means of ensuring the responsible service of alcohol without recourse to further restrictive legislation. They represent, in essence, an agreement to implement existing licensing law and an aspiration to introduce practices, the effect of which should further minimise the harm associated with the service and consumption of alcohol on commercial premises.
For their part the Police agree to enforce existing licensing law, to provide training to retail liquor staff and a dedicated presence on the streets.
While there have been a number of such Accords negotiated in Australia, some of which have been somewhat prematurely hailed as a success, the evaluation recorded in this report is the first to involve a control area and to employ a variety of measures, some of which are independent of those involved in the assessment, and so have a greater claim to objectivity than those measures dependent on those involved in the Accord.
The Accord to be evaluated in this report was implemented in Fremantle in March 1996 and was followed up over a period of 14 months. Post Accord assessments were carried out 7 and 14 months after its introduction and compared with assessments which had been fortuitously completed 4 years before the Accord was launched.
In addition, independently recorded crash, drink driving and assault data was obtained for both the licensed premises selected in Fremantle for evaluation and their counterparts in the control area, Northbridge, for the 12 months period before the Fremantle Accord was launched and the 12 months subsequent.
In interpreting the results it is important to note the Fremantle Accord was launched in 1996, while the last of the repeat assessments were completed in June 1997. Practices in both hotels and nightclubs included in the assessment may well have changed significantly in the interim recommending caution in the application of these results to current practices.
It is also important to note that the guarantee of anonymity provided to participating premises as a condition of their participation precludes making any distinction between individual premises as a consequence of which the improvements which may have been affected in some may well be masked by deterioration observed in others. While this is regretted, the evaluation of the Accord would not have been negotiable under other more revealing circumstances.
The measures which most directly relate to the Accord, the refusal of service to "intoxicated patrons" and age identification, showed little improvement over time and did not differentiate the Fremantle premises from their Northbridge counterparts. The failure, in the vast majority of instances, to refuse service to "intoxication patrons" or for bar staff, in the absence of door staff, to require age identification is particularly indicting of the instructions given to the staff.
The availability of drink driving, crash and assault data, which identifies particular premises provided a direct test of the effect of the Accord on the serving practices of such premises. Looked at in general terms none of these indices improved over time, nor were Fremantle or Northbridge premises differentiated. While to some extent the frequency with which Police attend these events is determined by operational policy, or even in the case of assaults the rapport established between Police and local Licensees, or the ease with which drink driving surveillance can be mounted, the crash data in particular suggests no improvement was effected as a result of the Accord. Night time crashes, which are more often indicative of alcohol, increased in Fremantle while decreasing in Northbridge. While the increase in assaults recorded after implementation of the Fremantle Accord in both Fremantle and Northbridge failed to reach statistical significance, the increase, which was greatest in Fremantle, may in part be attributable to the greater Police presence in that City as noted by the several samples surveyed.
Nor were there differences in the blood alcohol levels recorded for those committing drink drive offences or involved in crashes attended by Police or in the ratio of high/low alcohol beers purchased.
The risk assessments undertaken in the Fremantle establishments showed a slight improvement in some cases and at least initially Fremantle premises appeared more responsible than their Northbridge counterparts, a difference that was eroded when Northbridge launched its own Accord.
On the other hand, comparing the risk assessments from the Fremantle Respects You Project with those undertaken at the time of the Fremantle Accord suggests that there had been some slight improvement following the introduction of the Accord.
The views expressed by the samples of taxi drivers, patrons, residents and businesses surveyed conveyed the impression that the predominant perception was of little or no change. The exceptions being however, that all agreed that there were more Police on the street and less overt evidence of discounting. The increased presence of Police on the streets, noted by the several samples surveyed, almost certainly contributed to the perception that Fremantle was a safer late night environment.
Significant unanimity was expressed in relation to the need for stricter enforcement of existing liquor law, particularly those parts dealing with intoxicated and under age patrons, while a slightly smaller majority were in favour of local authorities having a larger say in liquor licensing matters including the issue of extended trading permits.
A number of reasons or considerations are adduced to explain these salutary findings, including the suggestion that Accords take time to implement and the fact that almost coincidentally with the implementation of the Accord there was a transfer of the responsibility for policing the Liquor Act from a specialised squad to general officers and a delay in implementing their training.
It is concluded that Accords are, by definition, cooperative agreements, the force of which, is only as strong as the commitment of those who are signatories. The retail liquor industry is a particularly competitive industry in which such agreements are constantly under threat, not only from within, by those who are committed to an Accord, but more particularly, from those who are without. Pressures of these kind were evident during the evaluation period. While Accords will probably be seen as an important interim step along the way to ensuring a responsible service within the retail alcohol trade it is concluded that except that such voluntary agreements are complimented by the mandatory training of bar staff and enforcement of a Liquor Act, which makes the minimisation of the harm associated with the sale and consumption of alcohol its principal objective, such agreements will always be subject to the competitiveness inherent in the liquor industry.
While the Fremantle Accord has been hailed as a success by both the City of Fremantle and the Police, it needs to be noted that there is little objective evidence of its having achieved its principal objective of a safer Fremantle.