Announced by NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell yesterday, the proposed clampdown is a first since the last of similar lockout restrictions were lifted from Oxford St venues in 2010.
The news has been welcomed by some – including the NSW Police Association, which called it a “common sense approach”.
However, hoteliers – including many LGBTI venues along Oxford St – have criticised the blanket lockouts and 3am “last drinks” rule as potentially causing more trouble with thousands looking for a way to get home at the same time.
The news also sparked debate among Sydney-based LGBTI social media users, with hundreds either in support, against, or in support of parts of the proposed crackdown but against others.
The legislation, which could be operational within weeks and just as the Mardi Gras season would be getting into full swing, comes after months of public debate about alcohol-related violence in entertainment districts around Sydney CBD – especially after the deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie.
Along with the Oxford St area, The Rocks, Kings Cross and the southern half of George St were highlighted as violence hotspots in a revised map of the Sydney CBD entertainment precinct that fell under the proposed legislation.
The revised map also included the popular nightspots of Circular Quay, Haymarket, King Street Wharf and Darling Harbour east but they were not highlighted as violence hotspots. In addition, no new liquor licenses would be approved for the whole zone and periodic risk-based licensing would be introduced for some venues.
Exempt from the proposed laws were small bars, restaurants and selected hotels such as the Hilton. Other nightlife precincts like Newtown, Pyrmont, Darling Harbour west and most of Surry Hills were also exempt.
The proposed legislation would also mean bottle shops across NSW must close at 10pm, plus a minimum eight-year jail sentence for anyone found guilty of committing a fatal one-punch attack while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“What has been happening on Sydney’s CBD streets and in other parts of the state demands strong action.”
While most social media users were in support of the new jail sentences for fatal one-punch attacks, they also raised questions on whether the crackdown would affect drunken behaviour, as revellers could still pre-drink excessively at home – as well as speculating on a potential surge in recreational drug use.
Questions were also raised about the future of Oxford St’s nightlife, and how venues that were exempt – including those in the LGBTI-friendly Newtown precinct – could cope with a potential surge in patrons after 1.30am.
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Craig Bell, co-owner of LGBTI venue Stonewall Hotel on Oxford St, told the Star Observer he would have liked to have seen if the new sentencing laws had any effect on behaviour before venues were punished for the violent conduct of a minority.
“A person who has a predisposition towards violence is going to act that way eventually regardless of alcohol,” Bell said.
“My biggest concern is that the police policy in relation to managing intoxicated persons is incorrect. They are still using the move-on laws instead of taking those high-risk, intoxicated people off the street and into custody where they can’t hurt themselves or somebody else. That’s the biggest reason we have so much alcohol-related violence on city streets at the moment.”
Welcoming the proposed legislation was Police Association president Scott Weber.
“Every weekend we are forced to pick up the pieces, phone parents and even deal with becoming the victims of violence and abuse ourselves. Now we see the government taking real action in dealing with alcohol related violence,” he said.
“Assault against police officers while doing their job will now attract a maximum sentence of seven years and a minimum sentence of two years and sends the strongest message to those who think violence towards officers is acceptable.”
Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich said that while he recognised the government was trying to deal with a complex issue, he was concerned the measures were simply reactive and could create bigger problems while also targeting LGBTI venues that traditionally hosted late-night or early-morning parties.
“Many young people in my electorate and in the LGBTI community say they go to well-run venues late at night without causing problems and are being unfairly punished by these changes,” he told the Star Observer.
“They are concerned that the restrictions don’t target problems and penalise those who go out late wanting a safe and fun night out.
“Lockouts and early closures should be considered, but inner-city lockouts and earlier closing may shift problems to the suburbs, the streets and illegal parties. I am alarmed that the casino in Pyrmont will be exempt, which may mean that Pyrmont becomes the new site of alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour.”
The NSW Australian Hotel Association stated it welcomed the recognition of the role drugs played in street violence, but it was “sceptical” of the proposed lockouts and early cessation of alcohol trading.
“We do not believe tens of thousands of people will stay in licensed premises past 3am once alcohol is no longer served but will instead be out on the streets looking for a way home – the government will need to address this new issue,” AHA spokesperson Jason Bartlett said.
“The lockouts and closures in the Sydney CBD will also have an undeniable impact on the night-time economy – penalising businesses that are well-run and have had nothing to do with the recent violence.”
NSW Parliament is expected to debate the new legislation next Wednesday.
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