drinks

Are Sydney’s late night premises built on a shaky premise?

Of all the arguments Grogwatch has heard against the Sydney licensing reforms (only one of which is actually the ‘lockout’) the most difficult to judge is the claim that it has resulted in businesses going bust.

A protest against the two-year-old Sydney licensing reforms saw business owners, liquor industry workers, kebab shop owners, taxi drivers and families attend a public protest to ‘Keep Sydney Open’.  The liquor industry blog The Shout reported the industry is urging people to keep campaigning.

Sydney Now reported several nightclubs, including Hugo’s Lounge, Soho and the Exchange Hotel had closed down due to the lockout, with some other venues were reporting they had lost 60% of their business (Sydney Now). Additionally it claimed that a restaurant, a newsagency, and other businesses had closed down after the lockout was instituted.

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How is it possible for a policymaker, or politician, or other interested people, to judge whether these claims are legitimate? After all, businesses close down in Australia every day; in those cases managers and workers lose their job, and the owners might lose their investment. Or not. Or maybe they take the profits and set up another business elsewhere. Perhaps the business that closed was not managed well; perhaps local demographics changed, and the business no longer served the new residents. The owners might have closed down anyway.

If it is true — that earlier closing times for nightclubs, bars and pubs, and the lock-out, led directly to those venues losing some revenue and profit, thus shutting down — does it mean that the new policy is wrong and needs to be changed?

Newcastle’s experience suggests night time economy businesses will adapt and so will their patrons. Since venues in Newcastle’s CBD have the same closing time as those of Sydney (closing at 3.30am, and a lockout time of 1.30am), the number of businesses with a liquor licence have doubled. Yet assaults in Newcastle have declined by 37%.

But that’s not all. Already in Sydney, there are now more on-premises licensed venues operating than in 2012. They may be different from the ones they replaced, but people are still drinking in Sydney late at night and in the early morning. The main change is they’re beating up each other much less than prior to the licensing changes – and that’s a good premise to stand on.