Free B&B - but you must be drunk

Source: Illawarra Mercury

Drunken revellers in the NSW town of Wollongong can get a free bed, breakfast, shower, pyjamas and freshly laundered clothes under the NSW government's scheme to prevent alcohol-fuelled violence.

Those who choose to stay the night at the city's new "sobering-up" centre will not be disturbed by violent or aggressive drunks, who will be banned, Fairfax can reveal.

Wollongong MP Noreen Hay says the "hotel-quality" conditions will be an incentive for people who simply don't want to pay a cab fare to get home.

The centre, announced last week, will be run by a non-government organisation and is designed for people under 30 who have been socialising in the entertainment precincts and have become intoxicated, a spokesman for family and community service minister Pru Goward said.

But state government tender documents show a stringent list of excluded people, raising questions about exactly who will be welcome.

Drunks will be denied entry if they are under-age, aggressive or violent, injured, or have drugs or weapons, the documents say.

New legislation will also be introduced to allow police to transport people to the centre but they must give consent before being admitted.

Ms Hay said the plan was a waste of money and valuable police resources.

"At a time when emergency services have been cut back, here we are talking about these sobering-up centres, which could actually be an incentive for a drunk to become disorderly if they don't have the price of a cab to get home," she said.

"Save us all a lot of time and money and give them the price of a cab."

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The organisation running the centre will need to give clients a tracksuit or pyjamas to sleep in, the chance to shower and food on leaving.

They will be monitored by health professionals during their stay and will receive their property, including laundered clothing, on exit.

They will also receive an alcohol "intervention" before leaving, by way of an information pack or referral to drug and alcohol service providers.

The centre must provide 12 beds, two bathrooms, a kitchen and an office area.

A spokesman for Ms Goward said Wollongong had been selected as a trial location for the centre "using data on alcohol related offences across NSW".

Another voluntary centre will be trialled in Coogee, while a compulsory centre - where police will be given the power to force disobedient drunks to spend a night in uncomfortable cells - is planned for Kings Cross.

Despite the comfortable conditions in Wollongong, NSW Council of Civil Liberties secretary Stephen Blanks said the centre was a bad idea as it was impossible for an intoxicated person to give "meaningful consent".

"The idea that people who police think are appropriate for taking into these cells can give meaningful consent to their being detained is misconceived," he said.

"The reality is that the police will be obtaining consent by threats or other coercive means and not acting in the interests of the detained person.

"This is not being implemented for public safety or even personal safety reasons, this is being implemented to punish people outside the operations of the criminal law."

Expressions of interest for the Wollongong and Coogee centres close on February 15, with a 12-month trial due to start on July 1.

WHO FITS THE BILL

Entry criteria for the non-mandatory centre allows people who:

• are aged 18 years or over

• are intoxicated and disorderly, but fully conscious and free of injuries

• may be at risk of harm or are being a public nuisance

• display antisocial behaviour but are not being aggressive or abusive

• are not being violent or in the possession of any weapons, alcohol or illicit drugs

• are within Wollongong Police Local Area Command

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