The owners of the four gay clubs to be subjected to next month’s 2am lockout say they have been unfairly punished for heeding a police call to report crime in and around their venues.

The owners and licensees of Arq, Stonewall and the Exchange and Oxford hotels have sought an urgent meeting with Premier Nathan Rees to appeal the decision they say is likely to lead to an escalation of violence on Oxford St as crowds search for a place to go.

Owners from the four affected premises dispute the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) figures that rank them as among the most violent in the state. According to the list, based on internal incidents, the Oxford has one reported assault inside the venue every two weeks.
Police won’t release an itemised list of assaults without a Freedom of Information application, which the licensees claim denies them natural justice.

Gay venues worked with police to report incidents, to have RSA [responsible service of alcohol], and we’re being punished for it, Stonewall owner Craig Bell told Sydney Star Observer at a meeting with all four venues.

We’ll be less inclined to work with police as a result of this.

The licensees believe the assault numbers have been ramped up to include incidents outside the venues and against bouncers, but this was denied by a spokeswoman for BOSCAR.

They said those gay venues open after 2am would not be able to handle the numbers of people on the strip.

Aware more venues would be added to the list later, the licensees said they wanted to know how they could be removed from the list in the future.

Bell said the number of assaults each year were less than one hundredth of a percent of the number of patrons using the venues.

The reality is that 399,978 people went to Stonewall, partied, had a great time and went home without a problem. However, only 22 people caused problems, Bell said. If you look at the ratio, you could say this is one of the safest joints you could be in.

But the Government and police are standing firm on the issue, claiming the lock-out will result in a safer Oxford St.

Apportioning blame will always be subjective, but if the measures save one person from being assaulted or glassed as a result of alcohol fuelled violence then society will be better off, NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Dave Owens said, adding that these measures introduced by the Government were just the starting point and there would be provisions to review which venues were affected.

Addressing concerns at this week’s City of Sydney GLBT community forum, Surry Hills Police Commander Donna Adney said the lock-out did not go far enough.

Something had to happen, she told the crowd. With the proliferation of 24-hour venues, only having a lock-out on four or five is not enough, because people can just go along to the next place, she said.

We will have cops on the street when we need them, but I don’t think there will be a significant difference in the numbers of people on the street.

The Surry Hills Liquor Accord will meet later this week to decide alternative restrictions to present to the Premier.

Poll: Should gay venues be exempt from the lockout? Go to www.starobserver.com.au

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