2.5 Million People Have Avoided Sydney Because Of Lockout Laws

Sydney's controversial bar lockout laws have "devastated" the city's economy and led to millions fewer visitors, new data from the city's council claims.

Other startling figures in the City of Sydney's submission to a parliamentary inquiry include a halving of the number of live music venues since the lockout laws -- mandating times for re-entry, 'last drinks' and closing time for licensed venues in the CBD -- were introduced in 2014.

Restaurants have also been impacted, with just a handful in the CBD and Kings Cross operating beyond midnight, which council claims worked to "stigmatise" Sydney's reputation as a global thriving city.

The lockouts have "devastated" Sydney's nightlife and night economy, council claims. Photo: Getty

"It is time for a new vision for Sydney at night," the council said in its submission to the NSW parliament's Joint Select Committee into the city's night-time economy.

"The City supports measures that reduce alcohol-related harms, however, these should not undermine the night-time economy."

Lockouts cost Sydney $1.4 billion

The council wants the lockout laws scrapped entirely, replaced with a new system of liquor regulations, and with the current closing time laws retained only as a penalty for venues behaving badly.

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The controversial lockout laws were introduced in 2014 following a string of serious and deadly alcohol-related assaults. The rules enforced a blanket 1.30am lockout and 3am last drinks for bars and clubs in the centre of Sydney, as well as forcing takeaway bottle shops to close by 10pm.

Want these in Sydney? Not after 3am. Photo: Getty

The laws were credited with decreasing assaults in the lockout area but were also blamed by licensees for the closure of multiple iconic bars and music venues.

The council said it was worried about alcohol-related violence, stating that the problem "risks Sydney’s reputation as a safe city for local and visitor populations" -- but also warning that over-cooked laws could are having a similar effect on tourism and visitors.

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"The approach has led to significant unintended negative impacts such as a retraction of the economy by 7.1 per cent, with a potential opportunity cost of 2,202 jobs and $1.4 billion in turnover," the City claimed in its submission.

"Negative perceptions have led to a decrease of 490,000 people a year aged under 35 years visiting Sydney since 2013."

That would be nearing 2.5 million people between 2014-18 alone.

"A ghost town"

In a submission to an earlier 2018 inquiry, boss of the popular Oxford Art Factory venue, Mark Gerber, said his business had lost more than 40 percent of revenue since the laws.

He claimed the laws had created the perception that the city was a "no-go zone for any late-night activities and not worth going to anymore" and that the bustling Oxford Street precinct "nowadays starts to look like a ghost town after midnight on weekends".

Sydney becomes a "ghost town" late at night, club boss claims. Photo: Getty

Widespread huge protests led to a 2016 review of the lockouts, which recommended a trial of slightly relaxing the time restrictions for venues with good safety records, such as the OAF. But Gerber said in 2018 the 30-minute extension of trading hours gave "no benefit whatsoever" to his business.

The City of Sydney submission echoed this, saying that the number of music venues with more than $10,000 in ticket turnover had halved between 2014 and 2018 -- from 22 to just 11, with dire warnings of what this could mean for the city's music scene and cultural reputation.

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In 2013 there were 26 officially-listed music venues in Sydney -- today, just 19. and four percent of restaurants in the CBD trade past midnight.

A 2015 Keep Sydney Open protest, calling for the lockout laws to be rolled back. Photo: Getty

The City has called on the state government to undertake a "comprehensive reform" of multiple areas around nightlife, including planning, liquor licensing and cultural programs to boost the night economy.

The council wants 24-hour public transport to get people home safely from bars, the removal of ID scanners at Kings Cross venues.

NSW's legacy spreading nationwide

Queensland brought in its own drinking restrictions in 2016 -- banning shots after midnight, mandating ID scanners for late-trading venues, and winding back closing times -- following alcohol violence in Brisbane.

However, in 2017, those laws were relaxed, with a 1am lockout scrapped.

Other states are investigating their own lockout law system. Photo: Getty

Just weeks ago, the QLD government promised a second comprehensive study of the laws, after a Griffith University study found the scheme did not directly lower the number of assaults in Brisbane's nightlife areas. It also concluded that people were drinking more, and earlier in the night, to skirt early closing times.

The report claimed people were arriving "substantially more inebriated" at nightlife venues after the laws came into force.