Today, premier Mike Baird has announced the NSW government will be changing the lockout laws for a trial period of two years, relaxing the strict closing times of nightclubs, bars and bottle shops by 30 minutes.
The changes push back the lockout from 1.30am to 2am and move the last drinks curfew from 3am to 3.30am for those venues providing live entertainment. The changes include bottle shops, which will now be allowed to sell alcohol until 11pm. The changes begin in January.
Sydney’s infamous lockout laws have been in place since March 2014. During that time there have been two major rallies from the supporters of Keep Sydney Open, and a review submitted by QC Ian Callinan, who advised a relaxation of the current laws back in September.
Will the extra 30 minutes party time be enough? Or is it too little, too late for businesses?
Heaps Gay founder Kat Dopper says, “The lockout laws had a devastating impact on Oxford Street and it pushed our event, Heaps Gay, away from Darlinghurst and into the Inner West, which – luckily for us – sits outside of the lockout zone. Extending the lockout to 2am is a positive first step towards restoring our vibrant nightlife but there is still so much work to be done.
“The lockouts are only one part of a bigger issue that we need to fight: culture creators, venues and promoters don’t have a substantial voice when it comes to government consultation and we can’t see this 30-minute amendment as the final chapter in this story.”
Sydney DJ Andrew Levins says the worst thing that lockout laws did to Sydney’s nightlife was to discourage an entire generation from going out at night. He says, “It’s become something of a taboo to enjoy yourself in a nightclub now – and way less people go out each week.
“It’s harder and harder to maintain a nightlife culture when half the people in the club feel guilty about being there. Adding an extra half hour doesn’t do anything to fix this disaster. We needed a grand gesture – a return to the way things were at the very least – to shift this attitude towards nightlife and reverse the damage done to our night economy.”
And Charlie Lehmann from Ramblin’ Rascal responded by saying there’s a glimmer of hope, but it’s not enough. “Thirty minutes means nothing for me as a small business owner, he says. “A glimmer of hope has been sparked but it will take more than a few minor concessions to bring back a night-time culture, economy and a sense that Sydney is an international city.”
Who are the winners?
The two-year trial of the later 2am lockout and 3.30am last drinks will be granted to those venues who offer genuine live entertainment, live performances or art and cultural events only. This means the trial will not include venues operating solely as nightclubs, karaoke venues or strip clubs – or those “prescribed as violent venues”.
‘Live entertainment’ will be defined to include events where one or more entertainers are engaged to perform music (live or pre-recorded). Venues will need to host performances after midnight to demonstrate a genuine focus on art, live performances and cultural events.
The trial also includes an increase to small bar patron capacities from 60 to 100 people. Plus, small bars operating in the CBD and Kings Cross will get an automatic extended trading time to 2am. Interestingly, there are currently 49 NSW venues operating with a small bar liquor licence, including PS40, Papa Gede’s, Bulletin Place and Grandma’s in the CBD. Many other establishments operate under food and drink licences, or entertainment licences.
Who are the losers?
Nightclubs, karaoke venues and adult entertainment venues miss out (see above). The government is also extending the liquor licence freeze in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross until June 1, 2018, which means there will be no new licences granted to any hotel, general bar, club, producer/wholesaler, packaged liquor or on-premises licences for public entertainment venues in those areas. This freeze applies to any new small bars in the CBD or Kings Cross.
Sydney’s local MPs respond to the news
Member for Newtown and NSW Greens spokesperson on nighttime culture and economy, Jenny Leong MP, says the changes will do little to encourage a thriving Sydney nightlife. “The fault with the lockouts is that they were – and are – a blanket punishment. Instead of dealing with the people or the venues that were the problem, the lockouts punished everybody in our city who wanted to be out late and have fun,” she says.
“The changes will have a minor impact on a limited number of venues… It’s laughable to think that a government bureaucrat will be responsible for determining what ‘live entertainment’ is.”
Alex Greenwich’s office responded by saying, “While I welcome the relaxation of lockout laws… time will tell whether half an hour will be enough to improve Sydney’s declining nightlife.
“I am disappointed the government chose 100, instead of 120, as the small bar patron limit because 120 corresponds to most existing restaurants and bars, enabling a seamless transition to this licence category.
“I understand why the government is being cautious as we need to maintain the safety improvements that have come from the lockouts, however we can achieve a safe and vibrant late night economy with late night transport, renewable licensing, tools to prevent the saturation of late night venues in hot spots and lockouts for poorly managed venues.”
Mike Baird’s announcement comes on the same day that City of Sydney launches a new night-time safety scheme, which will run on Friday and Saturday nights during summer. The safety program includes secure taxi ranks, information kiosks (open until late), safety ambassadors patrolling the streets, plus additional temporary toilets.
Keep Sydney Open says it rejects the half hour extension
Calling out the revelations of unreported assaults at the Star casino, Keep Sydney Open sent out a press release in response to Baird’s announcement. KSO says it rejects the changes to the lockout laws as, “a half hour extension will not be enough to save the scores of small businesses on the brink of closing.”
Campaign director Tyson Koh says, “These go-to-bed laws have damaged our communities, small businesses and Sydney’s vibrancy without solving the problem of violence. It’s sad that in the face of this failing policy the Government has not had the imagination and ambition to consider world class alternatives to create a safe night time economy, but instead the premier only has enough vision to tinker around the edges.”
Instead of support, KSO gave further solutions to the ongoing issue that include 24-hour public transport, diversifying the night-time economy and targeted anti-violence education and intervention campaigns. Also, appointing a night mayor like that of Amy Lamé in London or Mirik Milan in Amsterdam.