Lockout Laws

(Private Members' Statement, 21 June 2018, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

It is four years since the 1.30 a.m. lockouts and 3 a.m. closures were imposed on all licensed venues in the central business district, entertainment, Oxford Street and Kings Cross precincts, and the late‑night economy has been withering since. It is now time to fine‑tune restrictions and make the city an exciting place at night again. The lockout laws provided a useful circuit‑breaker for the then escalating violence and antisocial behaviour associated with late-night hot spots, but they cannot sustainably be retained as standard conditions if we are to have a vibrant and diverse city at night.

A number of venues have closed and the once bustling Kings Cross and Oxford Street precincts have become near desolate after midnight. Emerging artists have fewer options to perform live because there are fewer venues and shorter venue opening hours, and venues are less likely to book artists that do not already have an established following.

The effect of the half‑hour lockout and trading extension for live music venues has been limited. While I welcome the lifting of the liquor freeze for live music venues, it is unlikely to make the difference that is needed to revive business and consumer confidence in Sydney as an after‑dark attraction.

At the same time, daytime music events are being targeted by sniffer dog operations that are invasive and becoming more authoritarian. Two weeks ago, New South Wales police promised to refuse any ticketholder entry into the Above and Beyond concert if a sniffer dog sits next to them—even if no drugs are found on the person. Many of my constituents were outraged at this approach and said it is part of a wider attack on young people going out and having fun. Sydney has developed more of a reputation for being a police state than an entertainment destination.

Last year the City of Sydney sought comment from the public on its discussion paper, "An Open and Creative City: planning for culture and the night time economy". The findings were released this week. More than 10,000 people made submissions and overwhelmingly supported longer trading hours, more places to go and more diverse options for venues after dark, including smaller‑scale events. Also last year the City of Sydney set up its creative city and nightlife advisory panel, consisting of people from creative, cultural and nightlife sectors. It will advise the city on how to implement the changes supported by the community through its planning rules. The panel is also advising the city on how it can implement its various cultural and nightlife policies and strategies such as the OPEN Sydney strategy.

The mood for change can be seen in the strong community campaigns to save venues in my electorate. The block that is home to the Bourbon and Empire hotels on Darlinghurst Road was slated for demolition to build a block of 83 apartments. While two licensed premises would have been included, they were much smaller. Other purposes would have been lost, including a pharmacy, medical centre and commercial offices. The community outrage over the proposal's loss of diversity and vibrancy in the Kings Cross hub brought together people who live in and go out in the Cross in a fantastic grassroots campaign that got the developer to withdraw its plans. The old and much loved Four in Hand Hotel in Paddington is being sold and there is talk of a developer turning the iconic pub into apartments. The Paddington community has come together to "Save the Four" and Woollahra council is now looking at ways to impose planning protections on the area's social heritage, including pubs.

My position remains that the lockouts should not apply to well‑managed venues, small bars and live music and entertainment venues. This will ensure that those venues that promote a rich social fabric for our city can remain viable. Venues that do not contribute to violence and antisocial behaviour but help civilise our night‑time culture should not be subject to the same level of restrictions as those with a history of violence and poor management. Measures such as saturation zones, late‑night transport and renewable late‑night licences should be introduced to ensure late‑night precincts do not become hubs for violence and anti‑social behaviour.

The 1.30 a.m. lockout was lifted in the Oxford Street precinct for the Mardi Gras parade. Police tell me that this occurred with few incidents and people who went say it was one of the best Mardi Gras ever. We continue to wait for action from the New South Wales Government Night‑Time Economy Taskforce, including a music action plan and a late‑night economy master plan. We need to move fast. Sydney's economic prosperity will suffer if we let the city become boring, cultureless and lifeless at night. I call on the Government to make Sydney's night‑time economy an urgent priority.