After five years and seven months in the dark, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has opened the door to Sydney’s revival, suggesting “it’s time”.
Speaking to media over the weekend, Berejiklian heralded removing the 1:30am lockouts in Sydney’s CBD, but stood firm on continuing the trade restrictions in Kings Cross.
The ‘lockout laws’ encompass a range of restrictive measures imposed on licensed venues in the precincts, most destructively the prohibition of new patrons after curfew, with last drinks at 3am regardless of the venue’s mandated licence or operating hours.
They came about as a response by the O’Farrell government to calls for action on what was seen as ‘out of control’ alcohol-fuelled violence on the streets, prompted by the coward-punch deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie.
Critics have always cited their failure to address the social issues of illicit drugs and normalisation of violence, accusing the government of applying the blame to genuine businesses in hope of being seen to be doing something.
The effect of the curfew has been to dramatically decrease patron numbers in the late-night entertainment precincts, with a subsequent decrease in street violence.
In support of the argument that the opening hours restrictions do little more than shift patron peaks to earlier times – or to other precincts – figures showed violence increased 25 per cent between 9pm and midnight, while the 24.3 per cent reduction in violence after 1:30am is in the context of at least 50 per cent reduction in people numbers.
It is suggested in the region of two-hundred venues have since closed the laws were introduced, with the patronage unable to support nearly as many locations, costing owners’ fortunes and employees’ jobs.
Berejiklian now says the city’s nightlife needs to be revived, for the sake of jobs.
“It’s time to enhance Sydney’s nightlife … we need to step it up,” she said. “Sydney is Australia’s only global city and we need our nightlife to reflect that.”
Prior to the state government’s knee-jerk action in 2014, many had called for action to reduce problems, notably improvements in late-night public transport, and greater coordination between operators and authorities.
Sydney will soon see the result of several years of painful infrastructure development, as the new light rail line begins operation. Berejiklian made mention of the changes, suggesting the light rail will improve safety for people traversing between venues.
But maintaining its disposition away from new transport and mired in bohemia, the Premier said she would not support any changes to restrictions in Kings Cross.
The Premier’s announcement comes weeks ahead of a report by the Joint Select Committee into the effects of the laws on Sydney; the JSC received 792 submissions, including from Sydney council, which claimed the regulations have cost the economy billions of dollars.
The AHA NSW has always been opposed to the blanket measures, which it notes punishes many good venues.
“We would welcome the removal of the lockout from the Sydney CBD and look forward to the release of Committee findings in coming weeks,” suggests director of Liquor and Policing, John Green.
The JSC report is anticipated 30 September, and expected to more fully address the whole suite of reforms.
“The Government’s inquiry into Sydney’s night time shed light on many issues, including the reputation damage done to Sydney as a whole, due to how downgraded our nightlife culture has become,” offers Michael Rodrigues, chair of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA).
Removal of the restrictions is seen as the city’s greatest chance to bring the people back to the precincts, and the NTIA see a revision of the laws as an opportunity “to create a thriving nightlife, creating jobs and contributing millions” to the economy.
“Our concern in the interim remains that as long as lockouts are in place in Kings Cross, Sydney’s global brand reputation will be unnecessarily tarnished.”