Sydney's Lockout Laws, 3am Last Drinks To Be Scrapped In Sweeping Review
Controversial restrictions like the 1.30am lockout and a ban on shots after midnight should be scrapped, a landmark government inquiry into the Sydney alcohol laws has found.
The NSW government's Joint Select Committee on Sydney's Night Time Economy has handed down its long-awaited review of the 2014 lockout laws, essentially backing the total erosion of the most contested parts of the legislation.
The report -- a half-decade after the controversial restrictions came into force in the wake of alcohol-fuelled assaults in Sydney's nightlife district -- has called for wholesale change in how NSW, and Sydney especially, polices alcohol and licensed premises.
Committee chair and Liberal MP Natalie Ward said she wanted people to "enjoy Sydney after dark". Deputy chair Alex Greenwich said the review was a plan "to bring the party back to Sydney in safe and vibrant way."
The committee recommended that rules mandating a 1.30am lockout at venues, the 3am 'last drinks', and bans on shots or ready-to-drink beverages after midnight, be removed "with appropriate urgency".
These had been among the main changes that anti-lockout groups, such as Keep Sydney Open, had pushed for.
The report also makes a number of sweeping recommendations around further supporting Sydney's night-time economy, such as simplifying pathways for small bars and music venues to operate.
Bar owners, musicians and others have long criticised the lockouts for their effects on the city's nightlife, including countless entertainment venues closing. Bar owners have claimed the city was being seen by visitors as a "no-go zone for any late-night activities and not worth going to anymore" and that the once-bustling Oxford Street precinct "nowadays starts to look like a ghost town after midnight on weekends".
Other recommendations include that taxis be incentivised to operate between 1.30am and 4.30am, when public transport winds down; that Sydney implement 24-hour public transport options; and that the city do more to encourage 'pop up' or temporary venues in "empty or under-utilised government spaces".
Also up for changing are laws that enforce a 10pm closing time for takeaway bottle shops. The committee recommended "the trading hours for the sale of takeaway alcohol be extended to midnight Monday through to Saturday, and 11pm on Sunday."
While the review does not set out a concrete timetable for the laws to be changed, Greenwich said he wanted to see the reforms "as soon as possible", at the latest by February 2020, for the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Despite recommendations for the main parts of the 2014 laws to be essentially trashed wholesale, the committee stressed that the restrictions "were both necessary and effective at the time they were implemented".
The committee reported that non-domestic assaults had dropped by nearly 53 percent in the lockout areas between January 2014 and March 2019, which they said equated to more than 1900 assaults.
"At the beginning of this report, the Committee wishes to acknowledge the victims of the serious assaults and violence that occurred on the streets of Sydney in the years leading up to the 2014 introduction of restrictions on licensed premises," Ward wrote in a foreword to the report.
"The tragic deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie shocked the community. We acknowledge their families and are deeply respectful of the circumstances which have led to this Committee being established."
Sydney's lord mayor, Clover Moore, praised the recommendations of the committee.
"This is an excellent result and an exciting moment for Sydney’s nightlife. Repealing lockouts in the CBD and Oxford Street is an important first step that will breathe oxygen into Sydney’s nightlife," she said in a statement.
"There were very real problems with alcohol-fueled violence and anti-social behaviour in areas like Kings Cross six years ago, but the collateral damage caused by the lockout laws is unacceptable, with 50 percent of live music venues closing since the introduction of the laws."