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The rollback of the lockout laws have an important ally, and the word on the street is that the government may entertain change.
Key figures in the NSW government have withdrawn support for the current regime of lockout laws, including Deputy Premier Tony Grant who believes the laws are doing more harm than good, with the closure of hundreds of businesses in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross area.
Mr Grant believes the laws should be relaxed to promote a revival of Sydney’s once vibrant nightlife and protect regional businesses.
Mr Grant says lockout times at late-night venues should be extended from 1.30am to 3am, and that takeaway alcohol purchases should no longer be restricted to before 10pm.
He believes the main contributor to late-night violence is the time alcohol is served at venues, not whether people can get in or take alcohol away.
Grants said the 10pm take away limit is especially unfair to regional areas, where farm workers traditionally purchase take away beers after working late during “harvest time”.
“It’s hard to see where the justification was for the 10pm bottle shop closures in the first place,” Grant says, adding that domestic violence cannot be blamed on the purchase of a few beers. His view is supported by the National Party, which is pushing for trading hours of rural bottles shops to be extended.
Statistics from the Bureau of Crime and Justice Statistics (BOCSAR) suggest lockout laws are associated with a 32 percent reduction in assaults in Kings Cross, and a 40 percent reduction in assaults across the Sydney CBD.
However, that reduction is consistent with a huge fall in foot traffic in those areas. Further, the drop relates almost solely to the period after 3am, not between 1.30am and 3am, prompting Mr Grant to state, “Every bit of evidence I’ve seen or heard about, even in my previous experience with liquor accord arrangements, it’s not the lockouts that have the greatest impact, it’s the last drinks”.
BOCSAR Director Don Weatherburn similarly notes that “Both of them (lockouts and early closing) worked for the CBD, only one worked for Kings Cross… Kings Cross had a 94 percent drop (in assaults) after 3am. The short story is Kings Cross got its principal benefit out of hours after 3am.”
He also notes that “footfall” in the Kings Cross area has dropped by up to 80 percent.
The NSW Premier is cautious about rolling back the laws, especially given that the Casino area (which is not subject to the laws) is now thriving and becoming the hub for late night activity.
Baird previously called the backlash against lockout laws a “growing hysteria”, claiming (in the face of seemingly indisputable evidence) that the laws have had little effect on Sydney nightlife.
“It is going to take a lot for me to change my mind on a policy that is so clearly improving this city,” Mr Baird previously stated.
However, the Premier seems to have relaxed his views more recently, leaving many hopeful about a rollback.
Former High Court Judge Ian Callinan will soon complete a two-year review into the effect of the laws. Mr Grant says the government should support Callinan’s recommendations, saying:
“If Callinan recommends pushing the lockouts back, I think it’s something we absolutely should do. If you’re trying to control the quantity of alcohol people consume…last drinks is most effective”.
While lockout laws are a complex and controversial issue, many are calling for the rollback of “Nanny state” measures which tell us what to do and when, especially when they are having a devastating impact on business while possibly shifting issues to other suburbs and the domestic environment.