Repealing the lockouts. What does that even mean?

The 1:30am lockout is just one part of a suite of regulations called the “Sydney CBD Entertainment Precinct Plan of management”. This ‘plan’ was introduced in 2014 after the 2013 coward-punch deaths of Daniel Christie and Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross.

2013 was the same year that Destination NSW was advertising the fact that Sydney was the safest city in the world. It was also the year that both Liberal Premier, Barry O’Farrell (who now runs Racing Australia) and the Minister for Gaming and Hospitality, George Souris, are on parliamentary record saying stating that alcohol related crime was flat or falling and that lockout laws (a Labor idea) were not necessary and would not have saved either Kelly or Christie.

Nevertheless, somehow by 2015 the narrative according to O’Farrell’s successor, Mike Baird, was that Sydney had been in the grip of spiraling alcohol-fuelled violence.

The most noise in support of the ‘lockouts’ was coming from an avowedly anti-alcohol group with links to the casino, an emergency room Professor at St Vincent’s Hospital and Kings Cross residents.

The first group really needs no more discussion, the professor’s own figures show that alcohol-related violence fell by less after the lockouts than the City of Sydney’s foot traffic count went down, implying an net increase in violence.

This doesn’t even take into account that “alcohol-related” includes both victims and perpetrators AND that, because of the Alcohol Linking Program, no matter where or when someone is assaulted, the last venue they drank at is recorded in the police report!

It’s actually the final group, the King’s Cross residents who had the most legitimate gripe in this whole sorry mess. Except that they chose the wrong target. The problem in the Cross wasn’t licenced venues; it was a complete failure in planning by the government.

Taxis changing at exactly the same time people were trying to get home, no public transport and legally licensed venues turning intoxicated people away, created a zoo in Kings Cross streets.

And who is in charge of the street?

Well, it’s actually the Police, except guess what?  Police don’t arrest violent drunks – they just fine them and move them on. This is not a joke; this is exactly what they did to Kieran Loveridge just before he killed Thomas Kelly.

Why the Police do this is a long and sorry story going back to the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commission in the late 1980s, but suffice it to say, as the current police powers stand, no one in their right mind would arrest a violent drunk.

Bottom line is that Sydney does not have a plan for its entertainment precincts. What it has is a reactive, punitive containment policy that places the entire responsibility for Sydney’s nightlife on one subset of one segment of the community – licenced businesses. It’s all stick and no carrot and if you designed a system to put people out of business, you couldn’t do it better

Worse, it is managed by Police, Liquor and Gaming and City of Sydney (whose compliance arm does not seem to know what its arts and culture arm is doing). These are literally the last people in the world you want managing fun.

What we actually need is a proactive, whole of government plan, one that incentivises good operators and punishes bad ones; one that explicitly recognises the value – both economic and social – of Sydney’s nightlife.

So when the Liberals leak that they might be considering ‘rolling back the lockouts’. What do they actually mean? Just the lockouts, the whole plan of management, the liquor freeze, the alcohol linking program? 

And even then, what will they replace them with?

Or could it be that now, after all these small businesses have closed, after the Star Casino has had its economic fortunes completely reversed, after developers have swooped in and snapped up most of the properties, that the government thinks that letting us stay out past 1:30am will make us forget everything they have done just in time for an election?

MP Robert Borsak of the Shooters & Fishers Party certainly seems to think so.

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