Byron Bay in the spotlight after A Current Affair took aim at the town.
Byron Bay in the spotlight after A Current Affair took aim at the town. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Byron mayor slams program for 'sensationalism'

Mayor Simon Richardson has come out against the A Current Affair program which labelled Byron Bay in the middle of an ice epidemic.

He said he was extremely disappointed with the program which implied the "Breaking the Ice' forum was being held in response to the supposed 'epidemic'.

"The forums are being run across many regions and are about education.

"Whilst many are aware of the tragic damage ice can cause within families, the focus should be on help and support.

"Not hitting out at a location with sensationalism.

"Our police and health services do an outstanding job, with often competing challenges within a very popular coastal town.

"When we as a society view illegal drug abuse as a medical problem rather than a criminal one and when we view both illegal and legal drug abuse as equal social problems, we will continue to allow ineffective leaders to produce ineffective policies and sensationalist media outlets to produce sensationalist programs,” he said. 

A Sydney Morning Herald article printed in September labelled Byron Bay as 'Paradise Lost' and implied the coastal town was in the grip of an economic downturn with ice use and homelessness so prevalent as to make Byron Bay a no go zone.

The article stated 'Byron is now both a money-spinner and a middle-class paradise, sporting middle-class house prices and rents replete with a surprising underbelly of poverty that informs drug usage beyond the hippy, music festival rager mind set.'

The article proceeded the 'A Current Affair' program aired this week.

BUDDI team leader Nicqui Yazdi said that both the article and television program had incorrectly seized on separate events like homelessness, or the 'ice community forum' in Byron to draw their own conclusions and ignore the facts and statistics.

"We have seen a rise in homelessness because of the rise in the cost of living here and that's the fact,” she said.

"We have the highest rents in Australia when you actually break it down.

"We have unique problems but our ice usage is relativly low.

"If you look at Lismore, Lismore has seen an increase of 70% in ice related incidents.

"We haven't seen that in Byron.

"This forum came about purely because this is part of our BUDDI Community Drug Action Team charter.”

She said, "The forum Byron is hosting, is separate to the regional forums run by the Alcohol & Drug Foundation, which have already taken place, but as Byron is a tourism town, with unique issues, we felt it was important to host a forum here, so we applied for funding and have brought elements of the regional forums into our Byron one, including some of the guest speakers.” 

The SMH article went on to look at the Page electorate with a brief mention of Casino.

The article states, 'Maybe Byron's juxtaposition of the haves and the have-nots makes it too delicious to resist pointing the finger but the story remains the same in other NSW towns as they try to come to grips with the rise of ice.'

Tweed Byron Local Area Command Superintendent Wayne Starling said there was no evidence to support that there was an 'ice epidemic' in Byron Bay.

”This year police have conducted 861 person searches and have also executed various search warrants within Byron Bay with only seven persons having been detected possessing 'ICE'.  

”Most of the local community within the Byron Bay area have a close relationship with their police and when concerns are raised by the community in respect to drugs they are investigated.

”In stating this the drug 'Ice' is used within many communities across Australia and sadly has impacted adversely on many individuals and families.

”People under the influence of ice pose a risk to themselves and others including your police.”

The Buttery's INTRA community outreach program team leader, Krystian Gruft, said the demand for all drugs was high and that there was a lot of money in Byron Bay to fuel demand.

”But one must be careful to try and see the national picture as the situation can change at any moment based on supply,” he said.

”It is dangerous to snap a picture of one location and assume it will stay that way and won't fluctuate."

The 'Breaking the ICE' Byron Community Forum, is being hosted by the BUDDI Community Drug Action Team and will be held on Thursday at the Byron Services Club from 5.30 to 9pm.

Locals also reacted to the ACA program on the Voice of Byron facebook page:

Shannon Kay First off these girls appear to be smoking weed not ice. Then there was the cop and the drug and alcohol specialist who both said ice is not nearly as much of an issue as alcohol. With 1 death to every 63 deaths from alcohol or something like that maybe it was 1 to 36 I cant recall now. Then they also stated the most commonly used drugs in the shire are alcohol, cannabis and ecstasy. What a beat up of an article but that's to be expected from ACA I guess.

Phil Townsend Spoke to a friend in Sydney the other night & was greeted with " The ice capital of Australia” Nice touch, friend.....not.

Marsha Perchard Total rubbish it was, I agree with you! The footage of the fighting was old, in front of the Northern and Cocomangas and that was alcohol related, the girls smoking looked like pot and really the footage was about Lismore and the my husband said total codswallop...

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