Mardi Gras and Night-Time Economy
(Question Without Notice, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament House)
My question is directed to the Minister for Lands and Forestry, and Minister for Racing.
Given that people were able to enter Oxford Street venues after 1.30 a.m. during this year's Mardi Gras without any safety problems, will the Minister extend those conditions to safe and well‑run venues in the week leading up to Mardi Gras next year, when tens of thousands from across the world will visit the area to celebrate one of Sydney's best and most important events?
Response from Minister for Lands and Forestry, and Minister for Racing:
I thank the member for Sydney for his continued interest in Sydney's night-time economy. His contributions to this issue are always very constructive and I thank him for his work in this area. Recently I was pleased to discuss with him in my office matters relating to the Sydney night-time economy. The member is aware that this year the New South Wales Government provided a one-off exemption in the Oxford Street area on the evening of the Mardi Gras parade. This meant that the usual requirements that are in operation in that area, the restriction on admitting patrons after 1.30 a.m. or 2.00 a.m., depending on the venue, did not apply. However, the venues were still required to cease serving alcohol at the usual times of 3.00 a.m. or 3.30 a.m., depending on the venue.
There is no doubt that the issue of liquor licensing in the Sydney central business district and the Kings Cross precinct brings forward very strong opinions on either side of the debate. It is important not to forget that the night‑time economy is more than liquor licensing, so I welcome the renewed focus of the City of Sydney on this matter. It is about retail, restaurants and entertainment and it is so much more than the opening times of pubs and bars. I welcome the input of the member for Sydney and other sensible voices in this discussion. Recent media reports have reminded us of important voices in this discussion.
Recently Professor Gordian Fulde spoke about the liquor law changes of 2014. He said they came about to stop people spilling out onto the street where we would see much alcohol-fuelled violence. The Police Association of NSW, which is opposed to change, has said that the law has prevented thousands of assaults and injuries. I note the comments of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday when he spoke about ambulance officers and police. I too share his concern for the men and women on the front line on our streets. Of course, many people in the industry have been very outspoken about the need for change to the current situation. I welcome feedback from the industry, the community, law enforcement and health sectors, and I will continue to consider their input.
The liquor law changes, which were introduced in 2014 in response to concerns about alcohol‑related violence, struck a balance between those concerns and the night-time economy. The result was a significant reduction in alcohol‑related violence. Following a review in 2016, the liquor laws in the central business district and Kings Cross were adjusted. There are now more than 35 live entertainment venues taking advantage of later trading exemptions. In fact, I can report to the member for Sydney that three of the most recent additions are on Oxford Street: the Slide Lounge, the Oxford Hotel and Palms on Oxford. Additionally, Sydney's small bars continue to flourish following changes to licence conditions approved by the New South Wales Government in 2016.
These changes allow small bars to serve more patrons, to open later and to have more flexibility around what they can serve after midnight. The Sydney local government area has nearly 60 small bars, and that number continues to grow. Just as the Government has put in place arrangements for other major events, such as the National Rugby League Grand Final, Vivid Sydney and the soccer World Cup, we will consider special arrangements for the 2019 Mardi Gras closer to the event. We will take into account advice from Liquor and Gaming NSW, the NSW Police Force and other relevant parties so that risks and potential mitigation can be appropriately addressed. Given that the member for Sydney is seeking an exemption for the whole week rather than a single night, it will require further consultation. The Government recognises the importance of the Mardi Gras as a major event for Sydney and New South Wales that contributes to both jobs and tourism. I look forward to working with the member for Sydney and other stakeholders in this matter.