JUST days after historic Sydney venue the Flinders Hotel said lockout laws were to blame for its sudden closure, the NSW government has brought forward a review into the effects of the controversial legislation.
Once an iconic gay bar, the Flinders is one of a string of venues in the Darlinghurst district that have blamed the laws for a dramatic downturn in customers leading to either reduced hours or outright closure.
However, health campaigners have called the legislation a success pointing to around 20 per cent fewer alcohol-related assaults in Sydney CBD.
A suite of new laws were introduced in February 2014, just before Mardi Gras, covering Sydney’s nightlife hotspots in the CBD, Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and parts of Surry Hills.
Alongside an increased police presence and more late night transport options, the new legislation compelled venues to bar entry after 1.30am and stop serving alcohol at 3am.
According to Fairfax Media, the office of acting Premier Troy Grant this morning announced a review of the lockout laws would be conducted in June, well before the scheduled date of 2016.
Speaking to the Star Observer, a spokesperson for the NSW Government’s Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR), said there was “early evidence that the 1.30am lockout regulation (and other measures) have helped minimise alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour risks in the central Sydney area”.
While some licensed venues had been “able to accommodate or change their business model in response to the lockout regulation,” the department said that nevertheless, “the government is never happy to see businesses close”.
The OLGR said any review would have a focus on how the laws had affected pubs and clubs.
“When we review the regulation, following more detailed research into alcohol-related crime in the Sydney CBD-Kings Cross precinct, we will include an analysis of the impacts on businesses, among other things,” the spokesperson said.
“In addition, the Sydney CBD plan of management will also be evaluated, including looking at impacts on business.”
The government has already loosened the regulations for low risk venues, such as restaurants, and suspended them completely for New Year’s Eve.
Last week, the NSW director of liquor and policing for the Australian Hotels Association, John Green, told the Star Observer: “The Flinders is not the first, and sadly, won’t be the last business to go under as a result of these restrictions.
“It’s sad to see a business that hasn’t done anything wrong pay the penalty for these lockouts.”
However, group chief executive of St Vincent’s Health Australia, Toby Hall, said the government should wait until next year to assess the lockouts.
Talking to the ABC, he said: “There’s been a significant reduction in the level of severe trauma” and it was “a clear correlation once the law was bought in and things changed very quickly and that’s been maintained today”.
“So we’d say to the government, ‘let’s get the evidence, let’s look at it on a factual basis’, but certainly at the moment it would be very, very naïve to make any changes to what is quite clearly a successful law,” he said.
Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich supported a review of the policy, arguing the important to get the balance right when it came to safety.
“Lockouts are an effective penalty, but their blanket introduction has had an impact on safe and well run venues that provide live music and entertainment, including gay venues on Oxford St,” he said.
“The 1.30am lockout was only one part of the government’s reforms and an independent review is important to identify which reforms are working and which ones can be amended.”
(Photo credit: Ann-Maria Calilhanna; Star Observer)