On Tuesday January 21, the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell announced tough new licensing laws on pubs, clubs and bottle shops across the state in response to the huge public outcry following the death of assault victim 18-year-old Daniel Christie, who was attacked in Kings Cross on New Year’s Eve, and 19-year-old Thomas Kelly, who also died following a similar attack last year.
O’Farrell's legislation package states that a state-wide closing time of 10pm will be introduced for bottle shops, and that a new, earlier lock-out time of 1.30am will be introduced at licensed venues in an extended area of Sydney’s CBD. Drinks will also cease to be served after 3am across an extended CBD precinct, the premier announced. Restaurants and small bars will be exempt, said Farrell, stating that "this is not about trying to penalise responsible drinkers." Interestingly, Barangaroo and The Star casino will also be exempt.
In a push to ease the concentration of drunk revellers from the hot-spot of Kings Cross, free buses will run from the area every 10 minutes on Friday and Saturday nights. A freeze on new liquor licences has also been announced for the Sydney CBD precinct, in order to “undo the culture of binge drinking that is giving the industry a very bad image,” said the Premier and reported by the ABC.
There are a lot of competing interests here in a bid to curb alcohol fuelled violence, but the announcement of this new law has upset a lot of people in the small bar sector. These are bars that have never had issues with violence and make a good deal of their revenue between 1am-3am. Undoubtedly this law will affect their business.
The blanket freeze on CBD licences also appears, on first glance, to be a sledgehammer approach to a complex problem, and it's likely it will stifle the growth and development of the nightlife culture that we so closely support.
It is worth noting that similar 2am lockout laws were implemented in Melbourne in 2008, also in response to spates of alcohol-fuelled violence. These laws were heavily protested against by the public, and were abandoned approximately three months later. A more recent five year freeze on the granting of new liquor licences in Melbourne has also been criticised by many, as the result has seemingly put a halt on the growth and expansion of Melbourne’s much-lauded nightlife scene.
Melburnian Andrew Ranger, who was instrumental in leading the protests against the lockout laws in Melbourne, expressed a feeling of "something very close to déjà vu" when the new laws were announced in Sydney, and cited the findings that a special report by KPMG commissioned by the Brumby Government in Melbourne, concluded with - that the controversial 2am lockout in actual fact led to an increase in violence on the streets, as the pressure on taxis forced a larger number of people to mill about outside waiting for transport at the same time. Ranger also gave light to the issue that stopping the service of drinks at 3am causes a push of people to the bar, where instead of purchasing one drink, patrons buy three at once in order to beat the last call, leading to further intoxication.
Ranger commented that the exemption of casinos from this lockout - which was also the case in Melbourne - creates the "worst possible social drinking environment," combining heavy drinking and gambling in one.
It seems that O’Farrell, in keeping small bars (60 patrons or less) exempt from these lockouts, is attempting to avoid the issues that arose in Melbourne, and it will be interesting to see the difference between the two cities. Overnight, two petitions have been signed by thousands protesting the new laws, and a Facebook page entitled “Save Our Nightlife” has gathered over 3000 likes overnight.
We will be reporting back on this issue.
UPDATE: January 31, 2014 Premier O'Farrell's proposed legislation to curb alcohol fuelled violence were passed by the Upper House on Thursday night. The legislation, including a 1.30am lockout time in the CBD and Kings Cross, last drinks at 3am and a state-wide closure of bottle shops at 10pm, will be enforced this coming weekend, as reported by the ABC. We'll be monitoring the impacts of the legislation closely and continue to cover this issue as it progresses.