$16 billion is the potential cost of Sydney’s controversial lockout laws and other missed opportunities on the business community, the NSW parliamentary committee examining the city’s night-time economy has concluded.
The Joint Select Committee on Sydney’s Night Time Economy handed down its report and recommendations on Monday (30 September), following community consultation into the laws introduced in 2014, that were aimed at curbing alcohol-fuelled violence in parts of the inner city.
It reviewed 793 submissions, and the vast majority (85 per cent) were from individuals rather than business, and most were solely focused on liquor licensing.
Overall, committee chair Natalie Ward wrote in her foreword in the report that while Sydney remains a popular destination for tourists, the city “may be foregoing $16 billion of potential economic activity by not taking full advantage of the night-time economy. Rather than having an economy of $27 billion, it could be worth $43 billion.”
In broadly recommending that the operating restrictions be repealed to reinvigorate the city’s economy after dark, the committee made 40 recommendations, including that the feasibility of 24-hour rail transport on weekend be examined as well as examining provisions for secure taxi ranks in both the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross.
Venues are also being encouraged to continue and even expand Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) training, while the committee recommended a two-pronged approach to getting businesses and venues more focused on safety and compliance with alcohol service laws.
This approach would see “rewards for good behaviour” introduced, potentially in the form of licence discounts or subsidies, while the lockout laws could be reintroduced for venues that are found to be “consistently in breach of relevant requirements”.
Additionally, it urged the government to appoint a special co-ordinator to facilitate improved communication between venues to improve the focus on safe trading.
Meanwhile, the liquor licence freeze would be maintained, the committee recommended, until its annual review in June 2020, with the freeze aimed at larger venues and not small bars or pop-ups.
Kings Cross ‘not yet sufficiently changed’
Noting that Kings Cross “has historically been unique and requires a specific, nuanced approach”, the committee stated that violence would likely return if the laws are repealed in full, particularly if the density of late-night venues returned to its pre-2014 levels.
However, it determined that the entertainment precinct “is not yet sufficiently changed to warrant a complete reversal”, despite non-domestic assaults falling by 52.8 per cent between 2014 when the laws took effect and 2019.
Instead, it recommended further investigation be done into measures that could improve safety rates in Kings Cross, while also suggesting improved public facilities, including enhanced street lighting.
‘Simple common sense’
Australian Retailers Association head Russell Zimmerman — who had blasted NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s reported suggestion earlier in September of a partial repeal of the lockout laws, said the committee’s findings “are simple common sense”.
“We especially note the recommendation to end lockouts in Kings Cross; contrary to her indication a few weeks ago, we call on the Premier to implement the committee’s recommendations lock, stock and barrel,” he said.
According to Mr Zimmerman, a review after 12 months in conjunction with exploration of other measures to boost compliance and safety in the precinct would be a workable balance.
“We told the inquiry the so-called lockout laws had had a swathe of unintended consequences, and one of those was to virtually destroy nightlife — to say nothing of businesses and jobs — in the Kings Cross area,” he said.
“We think given the problems these laws created, the sensible path is to adopt the recommendations and fine-tune later, rather than arbitrarily making judgements, which has failed in the past.”
According to the site, the government has six months to provide its response, due by 30 March 2020.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.