In 2014, our city community faced a very real and serious problem with alcohol-related violence in Kings Cross and the CBD.
Blood soaked brawls had tragic consequences for young people and their families, and left residents distressed and emergency services overwhelmed.
The City of Sydney called for 24 hour trains and other public transport to avoid people being stranded, drunk on the streets. We called for an end to lifetime licences that allowed badly managed venues to operate with impunity. And we called for an end to the concentration of large venues in areas like Kings Cross.
Something had to be done. So when the state government finally took action, I commended them for it, even though it wasn’t the action I’d been advocating for.
I also warned that the laws would have a devastating impact on our city’s cultural life and night time economy, and recommended a review of the lockout experiment after a year.
Almost six years later, I’m sad to say these predictions have been accurate.
Non-domestic assaults in the city may be down – arguably a natural outcome of reduced foot traffic in affected areas – and many large, badly managed venues have now closed. But the collateral damage has been devastating.
Scores of small bars, live music venues, well managed clubs, pubs have also closed, not to mention the shops on high streets that once relied on the foot traffic venues brought in.
The lockouts were a sledgehammer to crack a nut, when what we needed were carefully considered, evidence-based solutions.
The good news is that the current parliamentary inquiry offers an opportunity to revisit these options.
Several key things have changed in the past six years.
There have been significant changes to the Liquor Act and Regulation, meaning lifetime licenses can now be cancelled. Badly managed venues are given three strikes with escalating penalties that can ultimately result in them losing their licence.
There has also been a clear change in public sentiment. In a recent public consultation by the City, over 10,000 residents and visitors to our city told us they wanted policy change to create a safe, vibrant and diverse nightlife.
We responded by developing our late night development control plan.
The plan allows for 24-hour trading across the entire CBD, and until 2am on village high streets. It creates new late-night trading areas in some of the city’s fastest-growing neighbourhoods, establishes a new 24-hour cultural precinct in Alexandria, and rewards venues holding live performances and creative events in late-night trading areas with an extra hour of trading.
Despite these efforts, licensed premises are still subject to the NSW Government’s lock out laws. But if they are removed, the City’s plan will allow venues to apply to extend their current trading hours in two-hour increments, through trial periods and following a development application process. This would allow later trading to evolve over time for well-managed venues.
I support the removal of the 1:30am lockout and the 3am end-of-service laws, but the State Government needs to bring in other measures that make global cities work.
We need 24-hour trains and other public transport to ensure people can get home late at night, like in Melbourne or London. We need to further strengthen liquor licencing to provide incentives for good management and penalties for badly managed venues, and we need policies that encourage venues to spread out across the city, rather than concentrating them in areas like Kings Cross.
The City of Sydney’s night-time economy is worth more than $4 billion to the NSW economy and employs over 35,000 people. The removal of the lockouts would develop this further.
But more importantly, the removal of these draconian laws, combined with the Council’s policy to encourage trading after dark, has the potential to herald an exciting new era in our city’s cultural and artistic life.
I encourage the State Government to remove the lockouts and introduce sensible reforms to ensure Sydney has the safe, vibrant and diverse nightlife fitting of Australia’s global city.