Over the weekend, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian made the unexpected decision to scrap Sydney’s controversial lockout laws in an effort to revive the city’s nightlife and after-dark economy.
The 1:30am lockout laws, which were enforced in 2014, are set to be lifted at venues in Sydney’s CBD by the end of the year, however Kings Cross will still retain the restrictions.
“It’s time to enhance Sydney’s nightlife…we need to step it up,” Berejiklian told the SMH. “Sydney is Australia’s only global city and we need our nightlife to reflect that.”
It’s a massive step in the right direction for organisations like Keep Sydney Open and all of the people who have been campaigning for change over the last five years. Lifting of the laws will also hopefully help to refresh Sydney’s nightlife and economy as intended, however, it begs the question: is it too little, too late?
Last year, figures from Liquor & Gaming NSW showed that 418 licensed premises had closed in Sydney’s CBD and Kings Cross since 2014. According to Labor member John Graham, this amounts to a net loss of 176 venues since the laws came into effect.
Once bustling Sydney pubs, clubs and bars including The Flinders Hotel, Hugos, Soho, and Backroom were forced to close as a result of lockout laws, and Kings Cross venue World Bar reported estimated revenue was down by 25% from 2014 to 2016.
Forcing Sydney into a nanny state left businesses with no choice but to shut shop and also resulted in a drop in live performance revenue. According to a report from APRA AMCOS there was a 15% overall decrease in the value of expenditure on live artist performers from 2013 to 2015.
The lockout laws originally came into effect as an attempt to curb alcohol-related violence after teenager Daniel Christie was tragically killed from a one-hit punch in Kings Cross in January 2014.
While the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reported a 26% reduction in assaults in lockout areas, a 2017 report showed a 12% increase in assaults in areas adjacent to the lockout precinct including The Star, Ultimo and Surry Hills and a 17% increase in Double Bay, Newtown and Bondi.
Sadly, enforcing lockout laws in certain Sydney suburbs just pushed the problem into neighbouring areas. Much like a pair of ill-fitting Spanx, the violent behaviour AKA the fat was redistributed just outside the restricted area.
It feels like the affect the lockout laws has had on business, culture, and the displacement of alcohol-related violence has changed our definition of ‘nightlife.’ A ‘night out’ in Sydney has become stripped back with limited options, violence in once peaceful places and a strict curfew that, despite being scrapped, feels part and parcel with our Friday and Saturday nights.
Will the removal of Sydney’s lockout laws ever reverse the damage that has been done over the past five years? We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, we can take comfort in knowing we’ve at least taken a step in the right direction to keeping Sydney open.