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REVIEW OF SYDNEY’S ‘LOCKOUT LAWS’ COMPLETE

Former High Court Justice Ian Callinan has completed his independent review of Sydney’s ‘lockout laws’. New South Wales amended the Liquor Law to impose an earlier closing time for licensed venues as well as a ‘lockout’ (one way door) and earlier closing times for bottle shops in 2014 following a spate of assaults and fatal one-punch attacks.[1]

Applied specifically to the Kings Cross and CBD precincts, licensed venues are required to ‘lock out’ patrons at 1.30am, and to stop serving alcohol by 3.00am. Those amendments are fiercely contested with passionate support and opposition from many parties.

Supporters of earlier closing include medical professionals, police, local residents, abstinence groups, and many alcohol and other drug researchers while opponents include liquor licensees, venue patrons, live entertainers, and employees of venues. Members of the public support both sides of the debate.

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In summary Ian Callinan found the amendments to the liquor law largely achieved their objective to make Kings Cross and the CBD ‘safer, quieter and cleaner’, while acknowledging some economic and cultural impact of the laws. He recommended some slight changes to ameliorate those affects.

The independent reviewer concluded the case advanced by the broad health and medical field in support of the laws to be strong. Violent incidents in and around the entertainment precincts are much reduced, there are far fewer admissions to St Vincent’s Hospital emergency department, and violence has not been displaced to other areas.

Other advantages of the amendments to the law include a reduction of loud and ‘intrusive’ music from venues, a lower burden on police, and less overcrowding in the Kings Cross and CBD precincts.

However, earlier closing hours and the lockout have negatively affected some aspects of the ‘night time economy’. Several venues have closed, others have lost revenue and have laid off staff, so some jobs have been lost. Partly balancing those losses, the review noted other businesses have replaced the closures and existing, in Callinan’s words, ‘responsible’ licensees have gained more business.

Other costs of the changes include a reduction in live entertainment in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross areas and subsequent loss of live entertainment jobs, although Callinan believes those jobs probably moved elsewhere. He found no sign that tourist numbers were reduced or that creative people had relocated to Melbourne, as has been claimed by opponents of the change.

One substantial opponent of the liquor licensing changes is the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, who recommended the removal of the blanket 1.30am lockout and 3.00am closing times with an exemption for ‘well-managed venues’. She also recommended the non-renewal of the liquor licenses for ‘violent venues’.

Ian Callinan appears to have agreed with Ms Moore as he advised the NSW government could trial a lockout time of 2.00am and allow alcohol service to 3.30am for live entertainment venues. Callinan also recommended allowing bottle shops to trade for an extra hour until 11pm, and alcohol home delivery services to operate until midnight.

The government of NSW plans to respond formally to the review by the end of the year.[2]

It seems odd for Mr Callinan to recommend changing a reform that has prevented violence and potentially saved lives for the sake of 30 minutes of live entertainment. As it stands now, there is no need for the venue to close at 3.00am but simply to stop serving alcohol at that time.

Extending drinking hours has been shown to increase consumption, intoxication and trouble in licensed venues and domestic settings alike. Mr Callinan might be trying to appease both sides, but his recommendations might risk NSW taking a backward step.

NOTE PUBLIC MEETINGS

Liquor and Gaming NSW will hold public discussions of the Callinan Review for interested members of the public. For details visit the website.

Written by Karl Pietrangelo – Intern at the Alcohol and Drug Foundation

[1] The Guardian. (2016, Sep 13). Sydney’s lockout laws could be relaxed to 2am, independent review finds. The Guardian Australia

[2] Gerathy, S. (2016, Sep 13). Lockout laws in New South Wales could be relaxed, report suggests. ABC Radio