Sales of take-away alcohol could be banned after 10pm and drinkers stopped from entering bars, pubs and clubs after 1am, under measures to be trialled by the State Government.
The restrictions will be put to the test in regional centres including Newcastle, Albury and Orange as part of a bid to crack down on noise, anti-social behaviour and violence related to excessive drinking.
The Gaming Minister, Richard Face, revealed his plan yesterday, but bottle shops, clubs and civil libertarians immediately criticised the idea of limiting the freedoms of responsible adult drinkers.
The Government's law-and-order campaign is focusing on alcohol-related crime and licensed premises. Mr Face told a club industry forum yesterday that he was examining restrictions on the sale of packaged alcohol from bottle shops, pubs and clubs.
"It may well be necessary to turn back the clock and decide that no liquor be taken away from licensed premises after 10 o'clock," he said. "A lot of alcohol-related problems are literally spilling onto the streets, and I must say, people are fed up."
Mr Face would consider stopping people from entering licensed venues after 1am, although those already there would be allowed to stay until closing time. "It simply tries to stop the movement of people between licensed premises in times when the the anti-social behaviour occurs," Mr Face said.
But he added: "Nobody is trying to be a killjoy."
The measures had already been trialled in Wagga Wagga and Dubbo, where assaults and anti-social behaviour had dropped significantly, he said. Mr Face said he had the support of local councils for the future trials, and he would not impose such measures on communities without their backing.
Recent research by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows that a small number of licensed premises which open late are associated with a large proportion of assaults. The bureau's head, Dr Don Weatherburn, said alcohol was the most important factor in violence by young males.
"I would have to applaud any government attempt to try to control the availability and abuse of alcohol," he said. "It is much better than sending the paddy waggon around after the fight starts."
The chief executive of Clubs NSW, Mark Fitzgibbon, said he understood the need to reduce unruly behaviour, but a curfew on people entering clubs "could be a little over the top".
"It would have a severe effect on business and on the right of a member to enjoy his or her club at a time that's most convenient to them," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
The president of the NSW council on civil liberties, Cameron Murphy, said as long as people did not break the law, they should be able to decide where and when they wanted to drink.
The head of the Liquor Stores Association, Warren Bovis, said the "draconian restrictions" would hurt legitimate customers.
"We are so conscious now of our responsibility not to serve under-age and intoxicated persons," he said. "I don't see why there is a a need for it."
The National Union of Students' NSW president, Daney Faddoul, said the measures would not reduce under-age drinking but would impede the "legitimate and normal" behaviour of responsible adults.
John Thorpe, from the Australian Hotels Association, said if the 10pm takeaway limit stopped bad behaviour, particularly among young people in public places such as parks, then it may be worthwhile.