September 8, 2019
Source: Daily Telegraph
Author: Linda Silmalis and Danielle Le Messurier
8 September, 2019
Kings Cross identity John Ibrahim said he was “saddened” the controversial night-life precinct had been excluded from the NSW government’s decision to lift lockout laws.
“I do have to admit Sydney has matured as a city, not necessarily because of the lockouts but increased competition and better transportation options. There is a better understanding of young people’s drinking habits in general,’’ the former nightclub owner said.
“I can’t help but be saddened that Kings Cross is to be excluded from the new laws. I’m sure a lot of Sydneysiders have many fond memories of the Cross, as do I.”
Ibrahim’s voice was among the passionate and mixed reactions today to the Premier’s announcement she was relaxed Sydney’s controversial lockout laws.
THE PREMIER’S ANNOUNCEMENT
Controversial lockout restrictions on bars, pubs and clubs across the Sydney CBD will be scrapped by Premier Gladys Berejiklian in a bid reignite the city’s flagging night-life.
In a monumental turnaround, the premier has conceded Sydney’s night-life needed a rev-up while noting how the city had transformed in the five years since lockouts were imposed.
Not only has the city undergone a dramatic transformation with areas such as Central, Barangaroo and Pyrmont revitalised, alternate transport options such as ride-sharing and the soon-to-be-opened light rail had also emerged to disperse people.
However, the restrictions in the Kings Cross precinct where teenagers Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie died in separate assaults in 2012 and 2013 will remain.
It is understood changes to legislation to lift the lockouts will occur later this year.
The move follows the release of a parliamentary report into Sydney’s night-time economy, following a joint select committee inquiry established in May.
The three-month inquiry received almost 800 submissions and heard scathing evidence including from Merivale boss Justin Hemmes who declared Sydney a ghost town after sunset.
Hemmes revealed he also had to deny pop superstar Madonna entry to her own afterparty.
While the parliamentary report has until September 30 to be tabled, Ms Berejiklian confirmed her government would lift the restrictions.
“While we will await the committee’s report, I agree it’s time to enhance Sydney’s night-life,” Ms Berejiklian told The Sunday Telegraph.
“Sydney is Australia’s only global city and we need our night-life to reflect that. The night time economy is a key driver of jobs in our city and we need to do everything we can to strengthen it.
“Community safety will always be a major focus for my Government, but we certainly need a balanced approach.”
Ms Berejiklian also conceded that if the lifting of the lockouts did not work, the restrictions could be reintroduced.
REACTION TO THE PREMIER’S DECISION
Reaction on Sunday to the Premier’s comments on the lifting of the lockout laws was mixed.
Keep Sydney Safe spokesman and president of the Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation Dr Tony Sara slammed the decision to lift lockouts as “premature”.
He also said the announcement “reeks of bowing to pressure from the ‘star power’ of pub baron Justin Hemmes who has people jumping to his throwaway lines about Sydney being a ghost town”.
“This pattern of unilateral decision taking, given the report of the Joint Select Committee on Sydney’s Night Time Economy hasn’t been revealed to the public yet, is concerning,” Dr Sara said.
“The committee’s process isn’t being respected and nor is the input and evidence presented by submitters. At this stage, given the Committee’s report is being effectively ignored, we have no idea of how they have balanced known risk factors or projected what it will take to preserve safety.”
“As frontline and hospital-based emergency services workers, we know too well from first-hand experience what the consequences of dismantling the modest laws, in particular the 3am cessation of service and ending midnight restrictions on serving shots will be.
“When the assaults figures rise we trust the Premier will take accountability.”
Committee for Sydney CEO Gabriel Metcalf said the body welcoming the announcement.
“It is not an easy decision but shows bold leadership from the Premier and her government,” he said.
“The laws were not sustainable in the long-term and have had a negative impact on Sydney’s reputation as a vibrant, global city.”
“Sydney’s night-time economy has taken the first step towards recovery. A lot more is needed — better public transport at night, greater diversity of activities and smarter regulation that doesn’t strangle enterprise and fun. But this is a good first step.”
“Other world cities are able to offer a great night-life and Sydney should be no different. This is an important and welcome announcement.”
Jacqui Taubman, 27, from Darling Point, said she would be much more inclined to go out if the lock out laws were relaxed.
“Of course I’d go out more, I think everyone will, the city at the moment is so restrictive,” she said.
“The laws have changed the way that Sydney feels so much.
“Because of the laws, people have less of an opportunity to go out and celebrate where and when they want to.
“I’d like to see Sydney become more like Europe. Europeans in general just embrace life and they have that culture where everyone has got that passion for having fun and enjoying themselves.”
Freshwater’s Laura Kranz, 29, said she’d appreciate the opportunity to end the night on her own terms.
“I have been going out less since the laws were introduced, it’s not to say I don’t go out it just cuts the night a bit short,” she said.
“It’s definitely shut down all of the CBD area so there’s only that’s casino that’s open late now. Just in general I think it’s a bit of a dampener of going out in Sydney since the laws were introduced.
“If you go to Melbourne, you really don’t have the same feeling, they don’t have the restrictions like what we do in Sydney,” she said.
PREMIER RESPONDS TO REACTION
Speaking to the media on Sunday, Ms Berejiklian rejected claims she was trying to “grab a headline” with the lockouts announcement after copping heat on the handling of abortion legislation.
“I’m happy for people to say whatever they like … as the Premier of this state it’s up to me to be very public on issues that are important,” she said.
Asked why she wouldn’t make the announcement after the committee had finalised its review, Ms Berejiklian said she believed it was “important to provide an update to the community”.
The Premier also said it was her “personal view” the lockout laws should remain in Kings Cross.
“We should look at relaxing them elsewhere but I don’t want to pre-empt what the committee is going to tell us,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“I’m more than happy to relax or even repeal the laws depending on the committee’s findings — but I do think it’s time.”
WHY WERE LOCKOUT LAWS INTRODUCED?
Introduced by the O’Farrell government in 2014 to stamp out alcohol-fuelled violence, the Liquor Amendment Bill required venues in a region bounded by Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Cockle Bay, The Rocks, Haymarket and Surry Hills to refuse entry to patrons after 1.30am with last drinks to be served at 3am.
In a move criticised by Mr Hemmes and other venue operators, exemptions were given to The Star casino.
As for whether the restrictions were working, the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research told the inquiry that non-domestic assaults had dropped 53 per cent in Kings Cross and four per cent in the CBD since lockouts were introduced.
But while the laws had reduced the number of assaults, the benefit was diminishing over time, it found.
Factors that have contributed to the premier’s stance include the emergence of new transport options around the CBD to disperse patrons, including ride-sharing options, Uber and the arrival of light rail later this year.
At the same time, Sydney itself had changed dramatically over the past five years with areas such as Central, Barangaroo and Pyrmont undergoing revitalisation, offering new areas for people to explore beyond the traditional nightspots.
The move to re-open Sydney is also consistent with the views of Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres, who have both been focusing on finding ways to grow investment, boost jobs and make Sydney a more attractive global destination for business and tourists.
During the inquiry, Mr Hemmes argued the licensing restrictions in place over Sydney had diminished the economic viability of the CBD post sundown.
“The reality is that as night falls, Sydney’s CBD quickly and quietly becomes a ghost town,” he said.
The changes will require new legislation, which is expected to be introduced later this year.