24-Hour Economy Bills 2023

24-Hour Economy Bills 2023

(Second Reading Debate & Consideration in Detail, 29 November 2023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I contribute to debate on the 24-Hour Economy Legislation Amendment (Vibrancy Reforms) Bill 2023 and the 24-Hour Economy Commissioner Bill 2023. The late-night economy is fundamental to the heart and soul of our global city status. Late at night when there are people out and about, places to go and shows to watch, cities can be really exciting places. They are places where memories are made and social connections are formed. I met my husband, Vic, on a dance floor in a nightclub on Oxford Street some time in the early hours of the morning. When I first got elected to this place, The Daily Telegraph ran the headline "Gay party boy wins Clover's old seat", which is some rare accurate reporting for The Daily Telegraph.

Many of my constituents, regardless of their age, support a vibrant and dynamic night culture. A big attraction of living in the inner city is its proximity to hubs with great restaurants, cafes, bars, live performance venues and nightclubs. But, as we have heard from other speakers, Kings Cross, the CBD and Oxford Street, Darlinghurst—the inner city's major late night attractions—have suffered from six years of draconian laws that locked people out at 1.30 a.m. and forced venues to close at 3.00 a.m. We saw our bustling neighbourhoods destroyed. It was not just the late-night clubs and bars that closed, but also venues that were part of the same ecosystem, including restaurants and small bars. Venues providing nothing but poker machines of course thrived.

It was a big hit to local contemporary music, artists and performers. Sydney's reputation, culture and identity suffered. I repeatedly heard from young constituents who told me they were considering moving to Melbourne. I could not imagine anything worse. While the lockout laws were removed and last drinks were extended in 2020, that was during the pandemic, which caused yet another blow to the industry and our night-life. Sydney's night-life is resilient and is showing signs of a major comeback, with visits to the CBD at night this year above pre-pandemic levels. People want to go out. The 24-Hour Economy Legislation Amendment (Vibrancy Reforms) Bill and the 24-Hour Economy Commissioner Bill will help provide for long-term sustainability in this vital sector.

The bills reflect a fair balance by ensuring vibrant activity at night while ensuring safety and local amenity. I welcome changes to deal with noise disturbance complaints. The bills take a reasonable approach, giving neighbours a clear, single pathway for formal noise complaints, encouraging neighbours and venues to work together when there are problems, increasing the threshold for the number of complaints needed to initiate action, and making order of occupancy a concept for determining the response to complaints. It is important to point out that Liquor and Gaming will continue to be able to investigate a noise complaint from one neighbour if circumstances are grave, or from police, retaining safeguards against rogue operators.

As details of the new approach are worked through, the Government will need to make sure legitimate noise concerns do not fall through the cracks. It is not clear how Liquor and Gaming will deal with the development application conditions around noise that are objective and deal with local circumstances, like requiring a venue to close windows at a certain time or restricting the disposal of glass bottles in a laneway late at night. Concerns have also been raised that the definition of a neighbourhood disturbance may not include disturbances that affect only one building. I ask the Government in reply to provide clarity and commit to a process to work through any concerns. I also ask that the Government ensure Liquor and Gaming have the resources to take on this additional role.

Community consultation is an important part of protecting neighbourhood amenity. However, a lengthy and involved process can favour larger establishments that have the financial backing to undertake extensive engagement. Under new provisions, licensed applicants will have community consultation streamlined into the assessment process following submission of a statement of risks of harm and other potential impacts. If we want new, civilised venues to open we need to make sure the process of getting a licence is accessible. Linking trading to live music is a proven way to encourage more performance in our city, supporting artists and the industry. Increasing the extension from one to two hours will provide an even greater incentive.

Making permanent the provisions that helped councils facilitate outdoor dining during the pandemic will help keep our streets alive. Outdoor dining is hugely popular because it creates an atmosphere of charm in the public domain and lets diners enjoy fresh air and warm weather. Councils are best placed to manage potential impacts through conditions that respond to the circumstances of each location. Another great COVID provision that is being made permanent as part of these reforms is the "quarantini", which is something I called for during COVID. In early 2020 when Sydney plunged into lockdown and small bars and restaurants were diminishing, I asked the then Government to let these venues sell small amounts of alcohol with meals ordered for takeaway or delivery, and the "quarantini", as the concept was called locally, was born. It helped many businesses stay afloat and, like many others, I took advantage of the service. It made sense, as people ordering a meal to eat at home may also want to enjoy a drink with their meal without having to go to or order from another premises.

In the past decade, Kings Cross has changed radically. While it remains a vibrant late-night precinct, the streets are much quieter. Coming to Kings Cross was once like attending a crowded street party. There were people everywhere, and it could be difficult to walk on the footpaths. While that could be exciting, it often caused conflict that resulted in violence and police attendance. I did not support the lockouts because they took a blanket and heavy-handed approach that sacrificed vibrancy and late-night culture, although they did act as a circuit breaker against escalating violence in inner city hot spots. With Kings Cross no longer a hotbed of late-night violence, it is now appropriate to remove other provisions that target venues in the precinct, including ID scanners and precinct-based fees, and I support these changes in the bills.

Sydney's late-night economy has a great advocate in Michael Rodrigues, the 24-Hour Economy Commissioner. I welcome moves to elevate the position and the importance of the late-night economy by making the commissioner an independent statutory role. The commissioner should investigate ways to protect Sydney's LGBTQIA+ late-night culture. Dedicated bars and clubs have long been a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people, who still suffer from stigma and discrimination. These venues were especially impacted by the lockout laws because of their concentration on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst.

Some constituents are worried that there has been a cultural shift on Oxford Street late at night away from LGBTQIA+ friendly venues, with some people saying they no longer feel safe and affirmed in what has often been referred to as our heartland. WorldPride showed us that Oxford Street remains a force in the LGBTQIA+ late‑night space and remains home to Mardi Gras. Oxford Street will also soon host the first queer museum, Utopia. But it would benefit from some attention from the commissioner to look at ways to boost its standing and ensure Oxford Street remains a late night attraction.

I opposed the lockout laws when they were introduced and worked with colleagues across party lines to support a new approach that encouraged both vitality and safety. I welcome the new approach to the late‑night economy reflected in these bills. However, I acknowledge that we will need to monitor the situation to ensure we continue to achieve the right balance that supports the night‑time economy without harming local amenity. Otherwise, we could put the sustainability of this important sector at risk. I welcome the considered approach and words of the Minister in the other place, who recognised the need for a new approach that supports Sydney's need to be an attractive place late at night and residents' right to sleep. I believe the bill strikes a fair balance.

At a later stage I will move amendments to the 24‑Hour Economy Legislation Amendment (Vibrancy Reforms) Bill to clarify that the creation of special entertainment precincts must be driven by councils. In conclusion, I thank the Government for its work. I also acknowledge the role of local government in these reforms. Particularly, I pay tribute to the City of Sydney and its policy team, and the Lord Mayor of Sydney and her policy team. I look forward to working with the Government and the 24-hour commission to once again make Sydney the best place to visit late at night.

Consideration In Detail, Amendment:

I move my amendment No. 1 on sheet c2023-185C:

No. 1 Special entertainment precinct

Page 34, Schedule 4.4[3], lines 5–7. Omit all words on the lines. Insert instead—

(3) A special entertainment precinct may be established by—

(a) the council for the area in which the precinct will be located, by identifying the precinct in a local environmental plan that applies to the land on which the precinct will be located, or

(b) the Minister in a State Environmental Planning Policy, but only at the request of the council for the area in which the precinct will be located.

My amendment will clarify that the creation of special entertainment precincts must be driven by councils. Currently, councils can establish special entertainment precincts where live music is encouraged in venues through incentives. Enmore Road is the first and only precinct, but I hope that there will be more across the city and State, including my electorate. The wording for new reforms around special entertainment precincts has led to some concern that the Government could establish special entertainment precincts outside of any council process.

Though the Government has made clear that that is not its intention, with the creation of all special entertainment precincts to be led by councils, the Minister, the member for Wakehurst, local government stakeholders and I agree that providing additional clarification would be beneficial. The amendment will make explicit that a special entertainment precinct can be identified in a local environmental plan or by the Minister via a State environmental planning policy but only at the request of the council for the area in which the precinct will be located. The amendment is in line with the intention of the bill, and I thank the Minister and the member for Wakehurst for working with me to provide this useful clarification. I commend the amendment.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!