Shutting for good on Wednesday, Thursday Hugos’ owner and staff fronted a party of Kings Cross stakeholders and a Federal MP to announce intentions of a class action against the NSW Government.
As the award-winning cornerstone of Kings Cross closes its doors, the sickening reality of the area’s indiscriminate strangulation has given rise to outrage by both businesses and the public.
Hugos has never incurred a ‘strike’ for violence nor been on any OLGR list, yet reports $10 million in losses since the Government’s reactive and unconsidered imposing of crippling trade restrictions on the designated late-trading precinct.
The immensely popular pizza restaurant and nightclub used to see 6,000 people through its doors on weekends, but an 80 per cent reduction in foot traffic to the KX precinct saw Hugos drop 60 per cent in revenue and become unsustainable.
“We didn’t do anything wrong. But the NSW Government not only wouldn’t hear us out, they wouldn’t even take our calls,” said owner Dave Evans.
“So instead, now they can take the calls from our lawyers.”
Affecting more than just the licensed venues, the so-called ‘lockout’ restrictions have so dramatically re-shaped the vibe of the precinct that dozens of ancillary businesses have also closed. Multiple property owners and businesses have joined Evans to explore the idea of a class action for “compensation for their financial losses”.
While a spokesperson said the details are still under discussion with at least two law firms, the virtual genocide in the area has brought attention to the fact that the NSW Government promised regular reviews to “tweak” the measures – which never happened.
There has been advice that “the requirements have been met” for a group action, potentially focused on the uncompetitive nature of laws that restrict some businesses whilst allowing others nearby to trade unrestricted.
A total of 170 staff have been laid off at Hugos as a direct result of the trade restrictions – according to Evans. Federal senator David Leyonhjelm joined the fight, pointing out the bias in the situation.
“If 170 people had lost their jobs manufacturing cars, there would be politicians screaming their heads off saying, ‘Let’s subsidise them and keep them in business’,” said Senator Leyonhjelm.
“It’s a perverted sense of priorities.
“The laws aimed to solve a problem – which they’re not solving, they’re moving that problem into the other suburbs – but the unintended consequences are that they’re killing off the commercial life here in Kings Cross. People are not coming here.
“Nobody wants alcohol-fuelled violence, but the businesses of Kings Cross are paying a very heavy price for this blanket approach.”
Bureau of Crime Statistics & Research (BOCSAR) statistics have shown an increase in violent incidents in surrounding areas such as Pyrmont, but the relatively high percentage increases come off a small base and BOCSAR has not confirmed any direct correlation.
Figures have also shown a comparative rise in domestic violence across the same time-frame as the trade restrictions, the primary aim of which was to address violence involving alcohol, lending weight to the notion that restricting or eliminating choices for late-night revellers merely drives them away from regulated premises.
At last night’s rally Evans spoke of 35 business, including nine licensed venues, that have closed since the restrictions were introduced. Atop his losses, he said this amounts to “hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars”.
Police Minister Troy Grant’s office has confirmed the review of the Kings Cross and Sydney CBD restrictions will commence in February, 2015 – as scheduled.