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Sydney’s “Disastrous” Lockout Laws Lifted At Long Last

After five years, Sydney’s controversial “lockout” laws are to be scrapped in a bid to boost the city’s global  tourism appeal and return the thriving coastal city to its “fun and vibrant” former status. According to New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, now is “the right time” to give Sydneysiders a chance to prove themselves as responsible drinkers once more, after the strict regulations – which were enacted to curb late night alcohol-fuelled violence on the streets of the city, including a number of ‘coward hit’ incidents – seems to have had little to no impact on the real problem, but instead has had a serious impact on the city’s night-time economy.

According to a Deloitte Access Economics report, Sydney has been losing around $16 billion annually in revenue due to the laws, which prohibited entry into bars after 1.30am, banned drinks after 3am, saw liquor shops forced to close at 10pm and prohibited shots and cocktails after a certain time.

“It’s time to enhance Sydney’s night-life,” Berejiklian said. “Sydney is Australia’s only global city and we need our night-life to reflect that.”

It was a strange, strange thing – to have seen a city and society as vibrant and “fun-loving” as Sydney treated as a minor; otherwise incapable of regulating the way it drinks and behaves after 8pm. It begs the question, how many other governments have recently attempted to bring in prohibition era-esque drinking regulations in a bid to enhance community safety? Alcohol prohibition is enforced in many Muslim-majority countries for religious reasons, including Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Kuwait and the U.A.E, Somalia and Saudi Arabia, among others. In the U.A.E. however, the legal ramifications are a little more severe a fine. Public flogging and imprisonment is a common punishment for criminal offences like alcohol consumption. At the same time, expatriates seeking a life of luxury have no problems at all finding a glass of bubbly in the desert city of Dubai: there are safe havens and bottle shops found all throughout the emirate. And why is this? Simple. The amount of money that western populations are prepared to part with for a good time is not a small one. Boozing equals big bucks. In Sydney, $16 billion of it, annually, in fact. And that is taking into account that the lockout laws have only been in place in parts of Sydney.

Businesses are not happy with the ongoing ramifications of the lockout laws. Particularly those located in Kings Cross, the late-night heart of the city and the area where the lockout laws will still be in place for a long time. Many venues had to close their doors after just a few months of the laws being in place – thirty five of them, in fact, with nine of those licensed venues.

The owner of Hugos Lounge in Kings Cross, Dave Evans, has now launched a battle with the High Court of N.S.W, to secure compensation for the 35 business owners who suffered heavy losses before being forced to close as a result of the laws. He said that the laws had caused a 60 per cent drop in trade, and an 80 per cent drop in customers to the Kings Cross area.

“We’re talking a loss of hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, before adding that he personally had lost at least $10 million.

Thankfully, funding legal fees to bring a class action lawsuit against the state of NSW won’t be a problem for him: at least 12 businesses across Kings Cross and teams from three law firms have already pledged their financial support to the case.

“We’re looking for compensation for a bad policy. [Legal teams] would like to take it all the way to the High Court, barristers want to support this, sort of like the Mabo case,” Evans said. His isn’t the only industry to have suffered: attendance at live music venues across Sydney have also dropped 40 per cent since the lockout laws were introduced.

Huge protests in response to the lockout laws were staged in the aftermath of the introduction of the laws, with Jimmy Barnes representing the music industry and performing for the protests in a bid to convince the NSW government to “sharpen up” and recognise that Sydney’s live music entertainment venues were also suffering unfairly.

The city’s global reputation took a big hit too: negative perceptions have led to a decrease of 490,000 people a year aged under 35 years visiting Sydney since 2013, which equates to almost 2.5 million people between 2014-18 alone. The economy, in the meantime, has shrunk by 7.1 per cent, with a “potential opportunity cost of 2,202 jobs and $1.4 billion in turnover,” the City of Sydney’s submission to the parliamentary inquiry said.

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