Sydney Central Business District Lockout Laws
(Private Members Statement, 15 March 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Sydney needs to have a vibrant night life— which is clearly on display tonight in the New South Wales Parliament. It is two years since the 1.30 a.m. lockouts and 3.00 a.m. closures began in the central business district [CBD] entertainment, Oxford Street and Kings Cross precincts and the Government is reviewing the laws. Kings Cross and the CBD got out of control on weekends late at night because previous governments allowed 24-hour trading to proliferate, making the areas magnets for violence and conflict. Following the death of two young men in Kings Cross, the community demanded action. Reports in the media, police and emergency services indicate the public safety benefits from the lockout laws, with drops in hospitalisations and assaults on Friday and Saturday nights. These improvements are welcome. But it is time to work out which aspects of the laws are producing benefits and which are creating unintended consequences.
In April last year the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reported that the benefits may simply be a result of the reduced number of visitors to the area. The City of Sydney reported drops in foot traffic in Kings Cross by as much as 84 per cent. A number of studies have shown that blanket lockouts do little to curb violence and that it is earlier closing times that reduce assaults. In Sydney a 1.30 a.m. lockout law was introduced with a 3.00 a.m. cessation of service. A number of other restrictions also apply, including a freeze on new liquor licences, temporary and long-term banning orders, identification scanners in Kings Cross, the three-strikes policy, responsible service of alcohol [RSA] marshal requirements, risk-based licensing and drink limits. We need to fine-tune the laws to ensure that violence and anti-social behaviour remain low while maintaining a diverse and vibrant night-time economy that supports music, entertainment and culture. Since the 2014 laws were introduced many venues have closed. including Jimmy Liks, Flinders Hotel, Hugo's Lounge, Soho Nightclub, the Backroom, the Goldfish Bar, FBI Social and the Exchange Hotel, which had six venues including Spectrum and Q Bar. Many were live music venues.
Owners of existing venues say that patron numbers are so low that they have cut back staff and live entertainment. Smaller venues say that patrons go straight to larger venues that open later to avoid being locked out. Patrons report empty venues with no options to go elsewhere after 1.30 a.m. Many say Sydney's nightlife is suffering and that Sydney has become a laughing stock. While the review will focus on protecting safety, it must also aim to protect cultural diversity, which is essential to ensuring that Sydney remains an attractive place to live and visit. Young, creative people will not stay in or move to a city without a vibrant nightlife. Venues that promote the rich social fabric for our city must remain viable. Those that do not contribute to violence and antisocial behaviour but help to civilise our night culture should not be subject to the same level of restrictions as those with a history of violence and poor management. There is strong evidence that people watching shows drink less. When a live act is on, people engage with the show rather than line up for a drink. People drink less in smaller venues.
While Australia has a binge drinking culture, for the vast majority of people going out is not about getting smashed but about belonging to a scene and being part of a sub-culture—it is about music, art, fashion, dancing and friendship. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people tell me that gay clubs are among the few places they can express themselves. The Minister agreed to my request that the review address cultural impacts and engage with affected people, including people who go out. I welcome his commitment to host roundtable discussions with affected stakeholders, including the live music industry, youth organisations, NSW Police Force, St Vincent's Hospital, Uber and taxis. Also included will be Keep Sydney Open, which organised the 21 February rally of 10,000 Sydneysiders protesting against the laws. I recently participated in a roundtable with parliamentary colleagues and the live and dance music industries. I acknowledge the goodwill displayed towards a measured approach to ensure a safe and vibrant nightlife.
I support action against alcohol-associated violence and I have long opposed 24-hour trading. I believe planning and licensing laws must prevent areas becoming saturated with licensed premises and that the right to trade late at night should be renewable. Restrictions essential to public safety must apply uniformly across Sydney so that new hotspots do not emerge and inner-city venues are not unfairly disadvantaged. Pyrmont residents report more late-night revellers on the street from the casino. The casino is one of the most violent venues and its exemption does not make sense. It is a sticking point for many. I hope the Parliament can work with stakeholders to find a balanced solution. I call on the House to acknowledge that people want and should be able to go out at night and that it is essential if Sydney is to be regarded as a global city. The review is an opportunity to work towards a safe, civilised, diverse and vibrant nightlife.