While welcoming the NSW government’s proposal that the controversial lockout laws for late-night venues could be relaxed, the Australian Retailers Association has said the partial rollback “smacks of tokenism” and fails to deliver certainty for local businesses.
Over the weekend, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian made headlines by stating that “it’s time to enhance Sydney’s night-life” and suggesting that the 1.30am lockout laws could be scrapped for venues and hotels in the city’s CBD, ahead of the the soon-to-be-released findings of a parliamentary inquiry.
“I’m more than happy to relax or even repeal the laws depending on the committee’s findings… but [they] have demonstrated we need to find a better balance,” the ABC quoted Ms Berejiklian as saying.
It follows moves by the City of Sydney council to explore the option of 24-hour trading permits for businesses in selected inner-city districts.
But Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, said that the state government’s proposal not to lift the restrictions in the Kings Cross precinct does nothing to address the “regulatory mishmash” that are already in place under the laws.
“We’re happy lockout laws will cease to apply across much of central Sydney,” Mr Zimmerman said.
“However, the failure to include Kings Cross smacks of tokenism, and — as we told the committee when we appeared before it — gives the appearance of wanting to be seen to be doing something for the sake of it.”
According to Mr Zimmerman, retailers and other local businesses affected by the lockout laws, which only applied to select locations within Sydney rather than blanketly, had made it difficult for businesses to trade.
“If you look at the CBD entertainment precinct, it now has a little island to the east where lockouts will continue to apply despite the rest of the area being unrestricted,” he said.
“Global cities don’t close; global cities don’t subject themselves to a regulatory mishmash and a hotchpotch of conflicting rules that make it difficult for businesses to trade. This looks very silly, and does nothing for traders in what is one of Sydney’s biggest international tourist drawcards in Kings Cross,” Mr Zimmerman said.
While expressing sensitivity to the deaths of the two young men that sparked the introduction of the lockout laws, he also criticised the government for using their deaths as justification for the laws as being misleading and “offer[ing] a false promise”.
“Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie were attacked at 9pm and 10pm; 1.30am lockouts wouldn’t have saved either of them,” Mr Zimmerman said.
“Using these young men to continue to justify this gratuitous measure is very poor.”
The lockout laws, introduced in 2014, restricted the entry of new patrons and service of alcohol by licensed venues after 1.30am in certain parts of the city.
Critics have said the laws have impacted live performance venues and performers as well as other night-time entertainment industries.
Within two years, it had become apparent that unrelated businesses — and their commercial landlords — had suffered from the laws by way of reduced foot traffic, with a local real estate agent suggesting in April 2016 that the commercial rent of a Kings Cross pharmacy needed to be slashed by half to reflect the fall in foot traffic.
The Joint Select Committee on Sydney’s Night Time Economy is due to deliver its findings to the NSW Parliament by 30 September. It noted that “a very large number of submissions” had been made since the inquiry was established on 29 May this year.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.