In bars across Sydney, people are raising glasses to the repeal of lockout laws. Monday marked the end of the 1:30 am lockout and moved last drinks all of 30 minutes from 3:00 am to 3:30 am for everywhere except Kings Cross and Darlinghurst. While this is a move in the right direction, the government is still choosing winners and losers under the pretence of safety.
This change is too late for the businesses that have gone bankrupt because the government sent their customers to bed early without a nightcap. Prohibitionist ideas have crushed a strong Sydney industry. In Kings Cross foot traffic has dropped 40 per cent since NSW implemented lockouts. That means 40 per cent fewer customers for bars, clubs, and restaurants. It means 40 per cent fewer people walk by shops with signs advertising their wares. It means people looking for urban entertainment move to other neighbourhoods or, to the horror of all Sydneysiders, to Melbourne.
Melbourne abandoned their lockout laws in 2008. While few tourism sites flaunt Sydney’s nightlife over Melbourne’s, the removal of these laws is the first step to recovery. Deloitte economists estimate these misinformed laws have robbed the Sydney economy of $16 billion since they were enacted in 2014.
The CBD and Oxford Street are looking forward to taking advantage of that market. They have an extra thirty minutes to sell drinks and an opportunity to entice more people through their doors.
By ending lockouts in these areas, revellers don’t have to choose one place and stay. If the service isn’t good, they can move on. This increased competition means better bars for everyone.
Kings Cross, however, has been put in timeout until further notice. With better options opening up throughout the city, the Kings Cross area will likely continue to deteriorate. Maybe a few people will start their night out in the Cross before migrating to an area where can they enjoy Sydney nightlife for longer. But these venues are missing out on extra time to do business. And because many, tourists and locals alike, enjoy frequenting numerous locales in a night, they will choose other areas to spend their Friday evenings.
According to the cliche, a chain is only as strong as the weakest link. The same applies to economies. When the nightlife struggles, the tourism industry struggles; when the tourism industry struggles, the restaurants struggle; without good bars and restaurants, the real estate market struggles and so on from business to business. Kings Cross unable to compete will become poorer and likely more dangerous.
From their inception lockout laws have made value judgements, first about an industry certain people found distasteful. Then about a particular part of the city.
The Cola sign shines out over increasingly empty and more dangerous streets. Because foot traffic has dropped so significantly in Kings Cross, the cutback in total crime means little. Per capita crime has remained the same since lockouts were first implemented. However, proponents of the lockout laws use the total drop in violent crime as an excuse for keeping these shoddy laws in place.
Lawmakers often forget: new laws impact law-abiding citizens, not the lawless. Lockout laws have little impact on ice junkies and deros drinking from brown paper bags.
Not only have lockout laws done nothing for crime in the Kings Cross area, but the surrounding areas have seen an increase in violent crime as high as 30 per cent. My neighbourhood, adjacent to Kings Cross, has seen an 18.4 per cent increase in assaults.
By attempting to social engineer away crime, politicians have given criminals an excuse for their actions. Assault, whether done drunk or sober, is a violent crime. Government policies and rhetoric throughout Australian have made drunkenness a license to transgress. If we have a problem with violent crime, let’s crackdown on violent crime. Let’s not soften assault by calling it an ‘alcohol-related offence’.
It is time the NSW government stopped choosing which industries and which areas get customers. The NSW government and police force should repress actual offences instead of babysitting adults. Most people can have a good time without harming anyone. By enforcing lockouts in part of the city rather than letting everyone live by the same laws, the NSW government has hurt the economy, the Kings Cross culture, and the people living in the area.
Emilie Dye is the Policy Director for the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.
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