Trend Forecast: Lockout Laws Gone! – First Two Weeks Sees A Non-Violent Sydney But Still A Ghost Town. Where Are We Now?

The 14th of January was a Tuesday night that marked the end of The Sydney Lockout Laws in Sydney’s CBD. But what of the first weekend that ensued? With the last remaining nightlife venues in Sydney’s CBD left standing being allowed to extend trading hours, has it been too late? Will Sydney’s nightlife flourish again? 

Sydney’s Ghostly Oxford St during the Lockouts. Photo credit: starobserver

Reclaiming Our City 

Tuesday the 14th of January marked the end of the abhorrent Sydney lockout laws that saw many Sydney CBD businesses and live music venues perish and destroyed.

There were key venues such as The Imperial Hotel, The Orient Hotel, and Frankies Pizza who chose to celebrate the victory on Tuesday night. The first weekend showed Oxford Street’s Cliff Dive celebrate an end of the lockouts themed party and Surry Hills’ Harpoon Harrys partner with Keep Sydney Open to host a post lockout laws celebration party.

Knowing Sydney was losing the attraction of tourists and seeing a massive downfall of economic wealth, the Sydney Council pressed to the state government that the effects of the lockouts were extremely alarming. The City Council claimed in its submission to the state government that the lockout laws, “led to significant unintended negative impacts such as a retraction of the economy by 7.1 per cent, with a potential opportunity cost of 2,202 jobs and $1.4 billion in turnover.”

It was these key economical factors that convinced the state liberal party to concede in lifting the lockout laws.

The Simpsons Episode ‘Bart VS Australia’. Photo credit: The Simpsons

Back in November of 2019 Liberal NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the Sydney Lockout Laws will be lifted.

The changes have scrapped the 1.30am last entry rule for all venues in the Sydney CBD, except for Kings Cross which remains in curfew mode. In addition to the removal of 1.30am lockout times, there will be no more restrictions on the serving of cocktails, shots and drinks in glasses after midnight with last drinks, and end the 10pm curfew on bottle shops. The State Government will assess the outcome in a review in twelve months time.

“We also need to remove the lockouts in Kings Cross now, or we’ll always trail behind Melbourne” – Tyson Koh, Keep Sydney Open Party.

It took  about nearly six years for the lockout laws to be scrapped since its inception in 2014 under the Barry O’ Farrell State Liberal Government who decided to implement the lockout laws due to heavy alcohol influenced violence. The damage has left a lasting impact towards many businesses and live music venues in that period, resulting Sydney becoming a nanny state and a barren ghost town.

While it is obviously way too early to see Sydney’s nightlife flourish in the first two weeks, what does this say about the future?

Victory or Too Little, Too Late?

A Small Win For Workers, Musicians, Artists And Partygoers Who Depend On Sydney’s Nightlife. But A Win Nonetheless. The Damage Has Been Done.

For many young people and Sydney businesses it is surely a win that the NSW State government have repealed the lockout laws. But within that grueling near six year period, times have certainly changed and we need to assess how Sydney can offer a fully resurrected nightlife culture.

The beginning of the post lockout laws fell in between the end of the New Year  period and the Australia Day long weekend so despite the festivities that just recently happened it is still very early days.

“I don’t think we’ll set the world on fire tonight. It’ll take years to undo the damage that’s been done.”  Stuart Cairns, manager of Oxford Hotel. – recounting the end of the lockouts on the 14th of January

The start of a new era for Sydney’s nightlife were surprisingly peaceful, a mixed of mild celebrations to solemn silence. The plus sign so far was that there was no reports of drunken violence.

Image result for oxford art factory
The Oxford Art Factory Remains To Be One Of Remaining Live Music Venues To Survive The Lockout Laws. Photo credit: Music Feeds

In the midst of it all,  Mark Gerber, founder and general manager of the Oxford Art Factory is the only dedicated live music venue on Oxford Street to be left standing. Gerber a staunch supporter of Sydney’s live music and nightlife culture has been vocal about the damage the lockouts have done, but seeing its end this January, Gerber is both hopeful and pessimistic about the future of the once-lively strip.

Gerber did not hesitate in giving a truthful response about the end of the lockout:

“I saw a rise in people being out in Oxford Street on the weekend which is definitely heartening to see. That said, we are a long way off from it resembling Oxford Street pre-lockout times. I do think there needs to be much more effort from government to enlighten people on the lifting of the lockout laws, turning the tide doesn’t just happen by itself. People need to be told and told often. If the state government is truly serious about making this work for the people of Sydney and NSW, they need to accompany the lifting of the laws with a dedicated campaign to educate/re-educate people on the positives of the newfound freedoms they’ve been handed and the do’s and don’ts that come with that freedom.”

The damage has been done for people who have or had worked in the hospitality industry during the lockouts. According to a parliamentary inquiry, 176 venues in the lockout precinct had been lost since the laws were introduced.

For bar owner Aaron Edwards, he was forced to rethink his entire business plan when the laws came into place, six months after opening a small bar on Oxford Street. Edwards had foreseen a ripple effect resulted by the lockouts, in his own words;  “We also had to focus on events and winning over every single person who walked through the door. If a bar closes, plumbers and electricians and people who do general maintenance, they’re then impacted. It just keeps going and going.”

A bar owner celebrates the end of Sydney's lockout laws by holding a sausage sizzle.
Aaron Edwards celebrating the end of the lockouts with a sausage sizzle photo credit: ABC News

Edwards held a small celebration at his bar to commemorate the end of the lockouts with a sausage sizzle to usher in a new era. Edwards humbled by the victory, however lamented, “Not to get solemn but there is a grieving process and you need to acknowledge that it is done and let’s move forward,”


The Negatives? Signs Of An Increase Police Presence

Sydney Nightlife & Police Presence photo credit: drink tank

What was noticeable in the past two weekends of post lock outs was an increase in police presence.

NSW Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said, “We’ve seen what happens when Sydney vacates the field in terms of responsibility. We want people to enjoy themselves, but to do so responsibly. This is an opportunity for Sydney to really shine.”

But it is debatable whether an increased police presence would further contribute in ensuring safety for the public or intimidate fear.

Assaults in Kings Cross dropped by 53 per cent across a five-year period after the laws were introduced, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR).

CBD assaults also dropped to 13 per cent over the first two and a half years, before levelling out to 4 per cent across the same five-year period.

However, many argued the drop in assaults correlated with a drop in patrons caused by the new nightlife rules.  Areas outside the lockout law boundaries saw an increase in violence, with a 30 per cent jump in assaults across Newtown, Double Bay, Bondi and Coogee.

Ensuring safety for the Sydney public is great but the image of a small army of police patrolling Sydney’s streets is something Orwellian, we need to reduce the nanny state image that has procured after all these years.

Tyson Koh, leader of the Keep Sydney Open party argues, “Nightlife, despite the views of many, is not about drinking. It’s about having space to socialise, and in the truly great cities, it’s the ability to eat, shop, dance and be entertained whenever one’s mood fancies.”

We need to treat the post lockout trial with a degree of fairness and not assume the result will escalate to extreme alcoholic related violence.

How we can all counter a negative reception to the casting shadow the lockouts did to Sydney is to keep encouraging the government to reverse the damage they did. The Berejiklian government need to reset and change their stance, message the people of Sydney to declare that the Sydney CBD, Oxford Street and Kings Cross is not some sort of T.S Eliot Wasteland of disillusionment and despair.

It took nearly over half a decade of romping negative representations, and hyping up hyperbolic statistics. Sydney businesses within the proximity of the lockout boundaries will be pushing the boulder up hill to undo the damage.


Where Are We Now?

For now, it remains to be a long and winding road for the people who depend on Sydney’s nightlife to regain its reputation as one of the iconic places in the world known for its vibrant nightlife.

Jake Smythe, co-founder of Mary’s Group which operates Mary’s, Mary’s Underground and The Lansdowne, said in a statement: “I am … so aware that the job is nowhere near complete. We have been shot back to 2014 but we are about to ring in 2020.”

It is still very early days but hopefully the businesses and the public alike will get to experience what was known to be Sydney’s nightlife and hopefully the vibrant cultural and positive energy that was Sydney will be alive again later down the track.

Our very own Fashion Industry Broadcast has researched deeply into the effects of the Sydney Lockout Laws which you can watch below:

It is 2020, and to invoke the words of David Bowie, “Where are we now?” We see an opportunity to act at the start of a new decade. The public of Sydney, lovers of live music, art and culture should not give up the fight to see the once dynamic and energetic Sydney’s nightlife be brought back to the surface.

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