fight for your right to party: as sydney tries to remain open, queensland slams shut

i-D takes a sober look at the nation-wide fight to keep the good times rolling. And asks what are the wider consequences—other than killing our buzz.

by i-D Staff
17 February 2016, 1:00am

Image via Flickr

Yesterday protest group Keep Sydney Open announced that this Sunday they'll host a public rally in opposition to the city's controversial lock out laws. Starting at Belmore Park at 12.30PM the event will involve performances from Royal Headache and Art Vs Science—who recently released anti-lock out song You Got To Stop—to draw attention to the damage the laws are doing to culture, employment and Sydney's creative community. 

Since the laws were introduced in March 2014 Keep Sydney Open report that over 20 venues have closed, 600 jobs have been lost and wider opportunities for local bands and DJs have been decimated. But more difficult to quantify is the social impact the laws are having. Speaking to THUMP last year Tyson Koh—the Campaign Manager of Keep Sydney Open— said, "Most people don't stop and think about who really makes our cities great...Musicians, cafe, restaurant and venue owners, chefs, designers... these are all young, talented and passionate people." In short: by cleaning up the streets, they risk sanitizing the culture. 

Organisers of Keep Sydney Open hope that this united display of dissatisfaction will force the New South Wales government to examine the negative impact the laws are having on the city. They're calling for NSW Premier Mike Baird to reconsider a flawed policy and start a dialog with those effected about how they can work together to address alcohol fuelled violence and protect patrons.  

As Sydney attempts to cast off the restrictive laws, Queensland is making plans to enforce them. QLD has passed the Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill that will introduce laws to make it illegal to serve alcohol past 2AM statewide—except in Safe Night Precincts where alcohol could be served until 3AM with a 1AM lockout. 

Initially the bill seemed unlikely to pass as the QLD government needed support from independent MPs. Namely, they needed independent Member for Cook Billy Gordon, and he initially wasn't buying it. Earlier this week Mr Gordon told the ABC he "haven't seen anything or heard anything from the Government that's changed my mind." Echoing the sentiments of Keep Sydney Open supporters he continued by saying the lockout laws wouldn't serve as a deterrent to the much discussed one-punch attacks that killed Brisbane man Cole Miller earlier this year. Referring to Mr Miller he reflected: "I'm not quite sure if this legislation was in place six or 12 months ago it would have saved anyone from harm...I'm of the majority of Queenslanders that don't want this type of violence on our streets, but I don't want to pass legislation into law that I don't think deals with the issue."

But today it was announced that Premier Palaszczuk had reached a deal with the independent members on a "series of measures to improve employment, health and safety".

Continuing the Premier said, "These are important issues for Queenslanders. We are committed to curbing alcohol-fuelled violence, but we are also committed to increasing employment and devoting more resources to mental health." 

The question of whether or not these restrictions are addressing the core issue is something that both sides of the debate return to again and again. While those supporting the laws argue that removing alcohol is the most direct way to combat the violence it supposedly fuels, the reported results are murky. Assaults in the Sydney lockout areas have declined over the past two years, but not exactly in the way Premier Baird would lead you to believe. He's repeatedly reported that violence had "decreased by 42.2 percent in the CBD since we introduced the 'lock-out laws'...and they're down by over 60 percent in Kings Cross." 

But critics point out that the foot traffic in that whole area has dropped so much you can't claim the reduction is because of drinking alone. Less people simply means less chance of confrontations, drunk or otherwise. Additionally, the director of NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) Don Weatherburn told the ABC that the premier's statement didn't take into account the reality that "assaults have been coming down in NSW since 2008, so you had this pre-existing downward trend." That reduction could easily have happened either way.

There's something else Mike isn't mentioning: violence is on the rise is other areas. The mass closure of bars in the early morning lead to a tide of displaced partiers to descend on the Star Casino, which is outside of the lockout zone. Bocsar has reported that last year the area around the casino saw an 88.3 percent increase in alcohol-related, non-domestic assaults. Perhaps the rate of assaults isn't going down, it's just moved somewhere else.

It's worth noting that while quantitive reports show that violence isn't changing as significantly as the government suggests, some Sydney doctors have claimed that since the lock out laws were introduced they've seen a dramatic decrease in late-night alcohol related injuries in emergency rooms.

Between the shifting statistics, reports and opinions one thing is clear: the real problem is yet to really be addressed. Australians are getting drunk and hurting each other, and no matter what suburb you herd them into, it won't stop until we rethink our approach. Keep Sydney Open supporters are calling for improved public transport options after midnight, increased access to first aid and changing the way police work with venues. 

Looking even more deeply into the center of this debate, you find one question. What's so deeply broken about Australia's drinking culture? Why do we continue having these problems across generations? A sober look at our national love of getting wasted is needed, but no one is likely to win votes for that.


Text Wendy Syfret
Image via Flickr

Lock out laws
Keep Sydney Open