Liquor Amendment (24‑hour Economy) Bill 2020

(Bills - Second Reading Debate, 23 September 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

At the outset I commend the Government for bringing this legislation to the Parliament. It is so important that in the middle of this pandemic we are dealing with a bill that will create jobs and help businesses, particularly in my electorate. The Liquor Amendment (24‑hour Economy) Bill represents a step forward for Sydney's nightlife as we recover from the damage of six years of lockouts and COVID-19. It will help achieve a good balance between encouraging vibrant activity at night while protecting safety and local amenity to ensure the night-time economy remains sustainable into the future. The late‑night fabric of a city is vital to its ability to harness culture and subculture, facilitate social connections, and provide fun and entertainment. The most loved cities in the world are cities that are alive at night.

Sydney's late-night economy is fundamental to its global city status. Tourists do not want to sit in their hotels watching television at night, they want to do exciting things, and the bright minds needed to work in the innovative industries of the future do not want to live in a city that is dull at night. As the Deputy Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Sydney's Night Time Economy I learnt about the immense value of the city's late‑night sector. Before the pandemic, it was worth $27 billion, but it could have been worth $43 billion had it not been for overregulation including blanket 1.30 a.m. lockouts across the inner city. I commend the work of the chair of the joint select committee at the time, the Hon. Natalie Ward, for her excellent work.

While the lockouts provided a circuit breaker against escalating violence in inner-city hotspots when they were introduced, a new approach towards the late-night economy is urgently needed. I welcome Government action in this direction including the removal of the 1.30 a.m. lockout and extension of the last drinks, the planned lifting of the liquor freeze, increased small bar capacity, and limiting identity scanners in Kings Cross to Friday and Saturday nights. This bill follows that progress. As people start to go out at night again we will need to ensure that there are adequate tools to prevent a return to the violence and antisocial behaviour that led to the introduction of the lockouts in the first place.

Data has shown that incidents of assault increase in areas that have high liquor outlet densities. Had there been powers to prevent nightspots from becoming saturated with licensed premises before things got out of hand, the introduction of lockouts may never have been needed in the first place. The bill would create a cumulative impact assessment framework to identify areas where there are already high concentrations of venues. Applications in these areas for high-risk premises like hotels, clubs, nightclubs and bottle shops could be refused or incur additional conditions on the basis that they would be detrimental to the local community. Areas will be identified after assessing venue density and data on violence and crime and offensive behaviour, with feedback from councils, police and the Ministry of Health.

This tool provides a more nuanced approach to managing cumulative impacts than the freeze. The bill simplifies and clarifies penalties for licence breaches, replacing the three concurrent systems of strikes and breach specific sanctions with a single demerit point system. The number of demerit points issued will depend on the seriousness of the breach, and the penalties will depend on the number of demerit points and the action taken to resolve the problem. This flexible approach certainly makes sense. I support new regulations for same-day alcohol delivery services that will ensure alcohol is not delivered to minors or people who are already intoxicated. Same‑day alcohol delivery services are an important part of the night-time economy and are often used when people entertain at home. It is particularly useful when it is a spur-of-the-moment thing such as after a show or when friends drop in. I acknowledge that same-day services could increase access to alcohol for people who suffer from alcoholism or are perpetrators of domestic violence. It will be essential for the Government to monitor this and respond in the interest of community safety.

The bill includes important measures to encourage diversity, live music and performance—something Sydney has been needing for some time. Small bars will be able to apply for permission to allow minors on their premises so that retail stores such as book shops and record stores or other premises can also operate as bars. The change could provide a lifeline to businesses suffering from the downturn associated with the pandemic. The new faster and easier application process for small bars recognises the low risk and limited impacts posed by smaller venues that do not have poker machines. It will help realise the vision of my predecessor and current Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, when she introduced her small bars and restaurants bill in 2007 for a late-night economy with diverse and civilised offerings.

The bill removes the archaic conditions on live music venues that limit music genres, types of instruments played, the number of musicians and the number of live entertainment acts. These conditions are out of date, unnecessary and inhibit creativity; their removal was recommended by Sydney's night time economy inquiry. I also welcome provisions to waive application fees and remove other restrictions around live music. As the industry moves towards recovery this bill will provide a good licensing framework. The next two steps are to repeal the lockouts in Kings Cross, and harmonise licensing and planning processes that duplicate procedures, increase time and costs, and reduce business certainty and investment.

I ask the Minister to commit to overcoming all of these challenges soon. We are all looking forward to the day when we can enjoy the full offerings of Sydney at night again. We will need to do more to stop the existing night-time economy from collapse before the recovery. There are estimates that we could lose 85 per cent of the State's live music venues in the next 12 months. There is urgent need for a stimulus package and further support across the late-night sector. I look forward to working with the Government and the City of Sydney towards an exciting and thriving city late at night now and beyond the pandemic. I commend the bill to the House.