inthemix investigates the Sydney's 2am lockout
Wed 3rd Dec, 2008 Lifestylein
It’s an uncomfortable topic for the dance music community at large no matter where in Australia you’re situated, and now it’s Sydney’s turn to take a walloping from what’s arguably an ill-conceived attempt to address alcohol-related violence. Last Friday 28th November an amendment was made to NSW Licence Conditions imposing new restrictions on a list of the top 50 “most at-risk venues in New South Wales.” The restrictions were commenced on Monday December 1st with the new conditions including a lockout from 2am onwards and a ‘restricted service period’ from midnight until the time the declared venue closes. Just as we’ve already seen in Melbourne and Brisbane, the lockout demands that venues refuse patrons entry, and punters already inside the venue are not allowed to leave and re-enter after 2am.
Parliamentary secretary Henry Tsang warned in a speech to the NSW Parliament on Friday that these amendments will only be the beginning. “If new problems arise over the summer new conditions can be added or existing conditions can be varied. New venues can also be targeted if necessary,” he said. There are only 50 venues on the list currently but over the coming months we’ll see these “targeted conditions” replaced with a statewide sanctions scheme for high-risk licensed venues. “This bill is one component of a multifaceted response to address antisocial behaviour and alcohol-related violence in our community,” he told Parliament.
Under different circumstances you would imagine the NSW Coalition would have thrown its weight behind such a conservative attempt to curb alcohol-related violence, but Nationals MLC Trevor Khan led the State Opposition’s response with a thoughtful critique of the fresh-faced Premier Nathan Rees’s populist approach. “In an effort to divorce himself from the conga line of Labor Premiers who preceded him,” Khan remarked. “The Premier is picking up this issue because of its high national media interest and is seeking to put his seal and his face on a tough-on-alcohol-around-the-dinner-table message.” He also points out there’s already been widespread support for thoroughly identifying ‘at-risk premises’ and individually shaping a response on a case-by-case basis. What we’ve seen instead is the NSW Government falling back on data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research that’s potentially hugely out of date, and rushing in a “blanket one-size-fits-all approach” instead of drawing up individual solutions to suit specific problem areas. The rushed implementation was also cause for concern, with the NSW Government slamming the amendments through both Houses less than a fortnight after they were introduced, with the timetable for enforcing the regulations limited to only four days. The Coalition aggress that alcohol-related violence exists; “However, one would hope that the Government would take a more considered, deliberate, and intelligent approach to legislative change than simply react to a headline and decide to announce government policy on the run,” said Khan.
MLC for the NSW Greens Lee Rhiannon also made it clear last Friday that her party would strongly oppose aspects of the bill, sledging the government for cynically chasing news headlines and placing unfair pressure on the well-behaved punters who enjoy late-night socialising at pubs and clubs. “Lockouts are unpopular with many young people because they believe that their civil liberties are being restricted and their freedom to enjoy a late night out is being taken away,” Rhiannon said.
The concern that critics of the 2am lockout keep coming back to is the claim that it’s a cynical and reactive measure designed to create the illusion that the issue is being addressed; while there’s a lack of any evidence to suggest that it’ll do anything to reduce alcohol-related violence. “Many young people fear it will be damaging to Sydney’s nightlife, raise cover charges, put pressures on taxis and public transport, will bar shift workers from going out after work, will bring an end to some late-night gigs and could encourage people to drink and drive in order to travel to non-lockout venues,” said Rhiannon. She insists that while Sydney is simply the next Australian city to face lockouts, we’ve yet to see evidence it’s had any sort of positive impact at all. “The Victorian Government dumped its lockout scheme in Melbourne. The measure was branded a failure by experts and was unpopular with the community. During the trial there was actually a recorded increase in violence on the streets.”
If we look to Melbourne for an example of how lockouts have worked in the past, ITM’s Victorian Promotions Coordinator Katrina Loughrey claimed the measures made life extremely difficult for the three months they were in place. “There were concerns for safety, as many women avoided the streets around 2am, in fear of meeting masses of guys trying to find somewhere to go and something to do. Everyone was angry during the lockout as well, annoyed about being forced to choose and forced out onto the streets.” It’s an observation that emphasises how the lockouts can actually contribute to fueling alcohol-related violence, rather than quelling it.
Queensland has buckled under the weight of a 3am lockout since 2005, with the regulars of Brisbane’s thriving clubbing district of Fortitude Valley mostly deciding to grin and bear what’s generally considered to be an ineffectual rule. However, ITM’s Queensland Promotions Coordinator JoAnn Curtis claims that it poses its own set of problems unique to clubbing culture. “The more boutique clubs and bars definitely feel the heat of the 3am lockout, with clientele departing from the smaller venues for the larger superclubs in the lead up to that time.” While the City Council has tried to deal with the measures as best as it can, assigning extra public transport to accommodate the thousands of people spilling out onto the streets at 3am, the lines for cabs are often so long that people are usually left waiting on the streets for up to two to three hours.
JoAnn also insists that Fortitude Valley has suffered an escalation in violence as a result of the lockout. “Previous to lockout, fights and violence were confined to small groups and infrequent episodes, but lockout has definitely changed this. From my window right on Warner Street across from Planet Nightclub and Mystique Nightclub it’s most evident. After 3am each Saturday and Sunday morning you can see massive groups of police consorting to mass riots. Often up to ten police cars, alongside two bike cops, security guards and paddy wagons will cut off the entire street to restrain an entire mob.”
Meanwhile, the venues have also hit back with Robbie Geammal, General Manager and Licensee from Oxford Hotel – one of the effected bars – slamming the data from which the NSW Government compiled its hit list. “It’s like a kick in the guts. The Premier is looking at Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures – statistics that are two years old. Since I got here twelve months ago I’ve been working so hard to turn the Oxford Hotel around. We’ve only had four incidents in the venue in the last couple of months, and three of them have been lost property! I’m being praised by the owners here for running such a tight ship, I’m being praised by the Surry Hills Police, we’ve been working with the accord to introduce the voluntary lockout – and now this. I’m just really angry.”
Venue lockouts, a national internet filter, sniffer dog operations, world youth day protest bans – how many decisions are being made for us these days?
Stay tuned to ITM as we cover the issue of lockouts across the country in more depth, and let us know your thoughts on the matter by posting comments below.