It’s been more than four years since the NSW government implemented its “lockout laws” to combat late-night violence. And despite ongoing protests, from punters and publicans alike, they show no signs of being lifted.
In an effort to lessen the impact on Sydney’s night-time economy, and restore its reputation as a global 24-hour city, the City of Sydney recently established a Nightlife and Creative Sector Advisory Panel inspired by similar bodies in cities such as New York, London and Berlin.
The panel has been fitted out with 15 experts from across the retail, hospitality, live music, business and theatre industries, shortlisted from 126 applications following a rigorous selection process.
The group will meet quarterly to discuss ways the city can work with businesses and other government agencies to reignite Sydney after dark, as well as advising on new initiatives and identifying emerging issues and opportunities. It will also work with creative, cultural and business communities to counter what the Lord Mayor Clover Moore called a “sledgehammer blow” to Sydney’s nightlife.
Representing cafes and restaurants is Justine Baker, the current CEO of the Solotel Group (Bank Hotel, Courthouse Hotel, Chiswick, Barangaroo House, plus many more); Greg Turton, general manager of The World Bar in Kings Cross, will represent night clubs; and academic Michael Wynn-Jones will advise on building and regulatory frameworks; among others.
Emily Collins, managing director of MusicNSW, will go to bat for live music. “In the past three years, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Sydney’s nightlife and cultural vibrancy,” she says. “I wanted to put that knowledge to good use and work with the city to make sure that they’re doing all they can to support a vibrant Sydney.”
Rather than grand gestures, Collins is keen to take a more holistic approach, looking for small actions that could lead to big changes. “It’s about viewing Sydney’s nightlife as a whole ecosystem and working out how it all connects, and possible ways small interventions could see significant change,” she says.
“Live music is often seen as the canary in the coal mine when it comes to broader issues of struggling nightlife – but I guess I like to see that from a different angle. If you support live music, then all of the rest will follow.”
According to the City of Sydney, Sydney has the largest night-time economy of any Australian city, generating more than $3.64 billion in revenue each year and employing more than 32,000 people across 4600 businesses.
And while clubs and live-music venues appear to have bore the financial brunt of the lockout laws – Newtown Social and The Basement have closed, to name a few – a thriving nightlife is diverse, Collins argues.
“A vibrant nightlife doesn’t have any one look. It’s got many,” she says. “It’s 70-year-olds dancing in the street. It’s teenagers seeing their first live punk gig in a music venue. It’s new lovers seeing the sunrise after a night of dancing. It’s eating your favourite pasta at 3am in a crowded restaurant.
“It’s police pointing you in the right direction when you can’t find that awesome new music venue. It’s families cycling around the harbour after dinner. It’s buying a new book for your best friend when you finish work at 10pm. It’s being able to go out and it cost you less than $50. It’s about choosing to go out, to be with people, instead of staying home.”
The panel’s small-bar spokesperson, Joshua Green, general manager of backpacker favourite Haymarket’s Side Bar, agrees.
“To be successful we need to be able to work with the laws and their changes. I will be focusing on understanding the needs and wants of all stakeholders and developing ideas to benefit each sector on a long-term, sustainable basis.”
Other cities across the world have made having fun at night a priority. London, for example, has appointed a “night czar”, while Amsterdam and Berlin have enlisted the help of a “night mayors”. Hong Kong keeps its stores open well after midnight, and New York’s public transport system connects the city around the clock.
After its preliminary meeting last week, the advisory panel decided its first task is to change the narrative around Sydney’s nightlife. “It needs to be a positive one focused on the creativity and diversity of our nightlife,” says a spokesperson for Lord Mayor Clover Moore. “The panel also agree we need to advocate to the NSW Government on issues such as late-night public transport and regulatory reform.”
Collins is hopeful these moves will pay off. “In its current iteration, Sydney isn’t the inspiring beacon it could be,” she says. “As Sydneysiders we’re not proud of what’s happening. When tourists come here, they’re not seeing the version of Sydney we want them to see. I want to live in a city that’s proud and weird and wonderful and inspiring, and full of music and joy. That’s what this is all about.”
The City of Sydney’s Nightlife and Creative Sector Advisory Panel will meet four times a year, co-chaired by a City of Sydney councillor. For more info visit here. The next meeting will be held in the first half of July 2018.