In this week’s installment of citizen journalism, Same Same’s Angus Paterson investigates Sydney’s new 2:00am lockout, the negative impacts of similar measures in Melbourne and Brisbane, and their impact on the at-risk gay and lesbian community. 

"It failed in Melbourne, it hasn’t done much for Brisbane’s safety and now it’s Sydney’s turn. Last weekend (December 6 and 7) 2:00am venue lockouts descend across 48 of the city’s so-called ‘problem’ venues.

The restrictions commenced on December 1 with the new conditions including a lockout from 2:00am onwards and a ‘restricted service period’ from midnight until the time the declared venue closes. Just as we’ve already seen in Melbourne and Brisbane, the lockout demands that venues refuse patrons entry, and punters already inside the venue are not allowed to leave and re-enter after 2:00am.

Nationals Party member Trevor Khan led the State Opposition’s response with a thoughtful critique of the fresh-faced Premier Nathan Rees’s populist approach. “In an effort to divorce himself from the conga line of Labor Premiers who preceded him,” Khan remarked, “the Premier is picking up this issue because of its high national media interest and is seeking to put his seal and his face on a tough–on–alcohol–around–the– dinner–table message.”

He also points out there’s already been widespread support for thoroughly identifying ‘at-risk premises’ and individually shaping a response on a case-by-case basis. But what we’ve seen instead is the NSW Government falling back on data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) that’s potentially hugely out of date, and rushing in a “blanket one-size-fits-all approach” instead of drawing up individual solutions to suit specific problem areas.

The rushed implementation was also cause for concern, with the NSW Government slamming the amendments through both Houses less than a fortnight after they were introduced, with the timetable for enforcing the regulations limited to only four days. The Coalition agrees that alcohol-related violence exists; “However, one would hope that the Government would take a more considered, deliberate, and intelligent approach to legislative change than simply react to a headline and decide to announce government policy on the run,” Khan said.

Member for the NSW Greens Lee Rhiannon also made it clear last Friday that her party would strongly oppose aspects of the bill, sledging the government for cynically chasing news headlines and placing unfair pressure on the well-behaved punters who enjoy late-night socialising at pubs and clubs. “Lockouts are unpopular with many young people because they believe that their civil liberties are being restricted and their freedom to enjoy a late night out is being taken away,” Rhiannon said. When you consider that four of Sydney’s remaining gay venues are on the list — Phoenix, Arq, The Oxford Hotel and Stonewall Hotel — that becomes a very serious concern for our community.

The concern that critics of the 2:00am lockout keep coming back to is the claim that it’s a cynical and reactive measure designed to create the illusion that the issue is being addressed; while there’s a lack of any evidence to suggest that it’ll do anything to reduce alcohol-related violence.

“Many young people fear it will be damaging to Sydney’s nightlife, raise cover charges, put pressures on taxis and public transport, will bar shift workers from going out after work, will bring an end to some late-night gigs and could encourage people to drink and drive in order to travel to non-lockout venues,” Rhiannon said.

She insists that while Sydney is simply the next Australian city to face lockouts, we’ve yet to see evidence it’s had any sort of positive impact at all. “The Victorian Government dumped its lockout scheme in Melbourne. The measure was branded a failure by experts and was unpopular with the community. During the trial there was actually a recorded increase in violence on the streets.”

Queensland has buckled under the weight of a 3:00am lockout since 2005, with the regulars of Brisbane’s thriving clubbing district of Fortitude Valley mostly deciding to grin and bear what’s generally considered to be an ineffectual rule. Valley local JoAnn Curtis claims that it poses its own set of problems unique to clubbing culture. “The more boutique clubs and bars definitely feel the heat of the 3:00am lockout, with clientele departing from the smaller venues for the larger superclubs in the lead up to that time.” While the City Council has tried to deal with the measures as best as it can, assigning extra public transport to accommodate the thousands of people spilling out onto the streets at 3:00am, the lines for cabs are often so long that people are usually left waiting on the streets for up to two to three hours.

Curtis also insists that Fortitude Valley has suffered an escalation in violence as a result of the lockout. “Previous to the lockout, fights and violence were confined to small groups and infrequent episodes, but the lockout has definitely changed this. From my window right on Warner Street across from Planet Nightclub and Mystique Nightclub it’s most evident. After 3:00am each Saturday and Sunday morning you can see massive groups of police consorting to mass riots. Often up to ten police cars, alongside two bike cops, security guards and paddy wagons will cut off the entire street to restrain an entire mob.”

Meanwhile, the Sydney venues have also hit back with Robbie Geammal, general manager and licensee from The Oxford Hotel — one of the affected bars — slamming the data from which the NSW Government compiled its hit list. “It’s like a kick in the guts. The Premier is looking at BOSCAR figures — statistics that are two years old. Since I got here twelve months ago I’ve been working so hard to turn The Oxford Hotel around. I’m being praised by the owners here for running such a tight ship, I’m being praised by the Surry Hills Police, we’ve been working with the accord to introduce the voluntary lockout – and now this. I’m just really angry.”

Aids Council of NSW (ACON) president Mark Orr contacted the Premier telling him that lockouts are “not the solution for the Oxford Street area,” adding that “with one stroke of the pen [the Premier has] created a 2:00am lockout at almost half of the [gay and lesbian] community licensed venues in central Sydney.”

There’s no doubt that Oxford Street is in serious trouble — overrun with a homophobic element, with drunkenness and crime — but is forcing people out onto the streets any kind of solution? The Sydney lockouts seem doomed to fail. And so we watch on — our community no safer — and hope that a real solution is waiting somewhere in the wings."

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The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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