Impacts of public drinking laws

Law Alcohol Australia New South Wales

This bulletin presents the results of a research project evaluating the impact of prohibitions on public drinking in three local government areas in New South Wales.


Policies that restrict the spaces in which alcohol can be consumed are now widely implemented around the world. Bans on the public consumption of alcohol are particularly common in Western countries, including North America, the United Kingdom, Nordic countries, Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, partial or complete bans on drinking in public operate to some degree in all major cities, as well as in many regional and rural towns.

Public drinking bans have different names, including dry areas, alcohol-restricted areas, liquor bans, open container laws, alcohol-free zones and alcohol-exclusion zones. There are jurisdictional differences for public drinking laws in Australia, whereby they are a matter of state/territory legislation in some jurisdictions and local council laws in others. In Victoria, public drinking laws are designed, enacted and controlled by local government, but are enforced by state government (police). This means that the provisions of these laws, including which spaces are included and exempt and during what hours the law operates, often differ between local government areas (LGAs), even if they are directly adjacent to one another. It also means that such laws require a considerable degree of cooperation and coordination between local council officers and police.

It is only really in the past 10 to 15 years that public drinking bans have proliferated across urban centres in Australia. What is interesting about this timing is that this is also the timeframe in which drinking on the street has become increasingly legitimised in the form of licensed restaurant/bar/hotel footpath trading. Despite the many vested interests involved in public drinking bans, including local council employees, elected councillors, police, licensees, traders, drinkers and community members, and despite the recent proliferation of these drinking bans in urban areas, there have been very few evaluations of their impact or effectiveness throughout the world.


Authored by Amy Pennay, Elizabeth Manton, Michael Savic, Michael Livingston, Sharon Matthews & Belinda Lloyd.

Publication Details