Everything You Need to Know About Sydney's Club Lockout Laws

A rally is being held in Sydney this weekend protesting the Australia's law that bar re-entry to clubs after 1.30am.

David Garber

David Garber

Photo by Shawn Sijnstra/Flickr

This Sunday, thousands of pissed-off inhabitants of Sydney are planning to protest the city's much-publicized lockout laws. The rally is organized by Keep Sydney Open, a group of live music venues, cultural organizations and artists formed to oppose legislation designed to curb alcohol-related violence in the city by curtailing the sale of booze and barring late entry to venues. Over 14,000 people have said they will be attending the rally on Facebook, which is taking place in Sydney's Belmore Park at midday local time.

"In response to the growing discontent with the State Government's lockout laws and the negative affect they are having on Sydney, Keep Sydney Open are holding a rally," the event organizers said on the Facebook post. "The Keep Sydney Open rally urges: the removal of the 1:30am lockout, 3am cease of service exemptions for licensed premises that are predominantly live music venues, an end to the new license freeze for predominantly live music venues and small bars," they said.

Sunday's protest is a response to an ongoing slew of lockout law developments that have bubbled up over the last two weeks. Sydney's lockout laws, which have been in effect since early 2014, block entry or re-entry into venues, bars and clubs in the city after 1.30 am, and enforce a 3am last call for the purchase of alcohol. There is also a ban across the state of New South Wales (home to Sydney) on takeaway alcohol sales after 10pm.

Following continued questioning of the effectiveness of the laws, Sydney's government this month announced plans to host a "Safe and Vibrant Sydney Nightlife Roundtable" to gather feedback that will be considered as part of a public review of the legalization. For music and nightlife lovers in Sydney, this is perhaps respite following a turbulent year of tension between local government and the general public—something that was further flared up after recent controversial comments were made by NSW Premier Mike Baird.

Baird caused outrage from opponents after releasing a statement on his Facebook page supporting the legislation. The politician quoted statistics that suggested crime in Sydney is down 42 percent, as well as the intention of the laws to "redistribute nightlife across the city," via a rise in smaller bars.

"The main complaints [about lockouts] seem to be that you can't drink till dawn anymore and you can't impulse-buy a bottle of white after 10pm," Baird wrote. "I understand that this presents an inconvenience. Some say this makes us an international embarrassment. Except, assaults are down by 42.2 percent. And there is nothing embarrassing about that."

The Guardian reported that Baird's statistic about a lowering of alcohol-related assaults are somewhat inflated, as he referenced what was a downward trend in assaults that started taking place before the lockouts were even in existence. Still, many of the figures he suggested are represented in the recent February BOSCAR report (NSW's bureau of crime statistics and research), that outline a drastic reduction in crime since the introduction of the lockout law. BOSCAR's report follows their 2011 report that noted that 56.8 percent of violent assaults in Sydney occurred within 160 feet of a liquor outlet.

Nick Van Tiel, one half of NYC duo Housing Corp, who's now based in Sydney where he DJs frequently around local venues, is one of the many local artists who oppose the lockout laws."The lockout laws imposed in 2014 were a poorly researched knee-jerk reaction to the very real and serious problem of alcohol related violence in Sydney," Tiel told THUMP over email.

"[The violence] is a problem that occurs right across the whole of Australia, a problem which (unfortunately) has been around for many generations and is deeply rooted in Australian culture. Everyone is in agreement that this issue needs real and serious attention however lockouts and license freezes are not the answer to this cultural problem," Tiel said. Tiel suggested that education, tertiary institutions on the consequences of alcohol abuse, tougher sentencing for violent offenders, extended late-night transport, and more police in violent areas may be more effective than the current legislation. He also brought up the potential usefulness of a nightlife mayor—something that's currently being suggested in London as a remedy to their own problems with clubbing shutdowns. "The lockout laws and associated license freeze in this city will do irreversible long-term damage to the city, state, and national economies," Tiel said. "Aside from the obvious catastrophic affect on nightlife businesses and other local businesses who thrive off the late night economy, these laws are systematically shutting down the once vibrant inner city center and causing a mass exodus of the city's creative young people—young people that are integral to the development of a healthy and vibrant economy in the years to come."

As THUMP reported back in October of 2015, Tiel isn't the only critic of the legislation. Many are arguing that the new laws are continuing to have a negative effect, leading to a rise in alcohol-related crime in smaller neighborhoods that surround major cities like Sydney, where the lockout laws are allegedly forcing party-seeking citizens to the fringes. Others like star Australian DJ, Nina Las Vegas, are suggesting that the legislation is causing a feeling of "sleepiness" in what was once vibrant cultural areas like Sydney, causing a diminishment in club culture.

Figures from licensing organizations Apra Amcos and the Live Music Office show that there's been a 40% fall in live performance revenue at their venues within the lockout zone in Sydney. And with many local venues forced to close due to a fall in business as a result of the laws, many who work in the nightlife industry are finding themselves without a job.

Despite local opposition to the laws, they are now being considered in other parts of the country. The Huffington Post reported this week that the Australian state of Queensland (the province that contains Australia's third city, Brisbane) will soon introduce lockout laws akin to Sydney's, following news that the area's government received bipartisan support for the legislation. In addition to similar ordinances as Sydney, Queensland's new laws will also prohibit the sale of "high alcohol content and rapid consumption drinks" after midnight.

Toby Hall, the CEO of St Vincent's Health Australia—an organization the works in not-for-profit and aged care for throughout Australia—has been an outspoken voice in supporting the effect the lockout laws have had on reducing the number of people hospitalized as a result of alcohol-related violence. "We believe the [new laws] have been an outstanding success in reducing alcohol-related harm and violence: in Sydney's CBD and Kings Cross, but also across the state with the 10pm rule on bottle shop closures," Hall told THUMP over email.

While Hall credited the new legislation for providing sensible and balanced measures to regulate the availability of alcohol (due to reducing the operating hours of alcohol-selling outlets), he also said the laws are responsible for reducing the percentage of alcohol-related injuries and visits at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, citing statistics.

"In the year following the introduction of the new liquor regulations, there was a 25% drop in seriously injured patients accessing the hospital's emergency department during the busiest period (6pm Friday to 6am Sunday)," Hall said. He added: "The frequency at which people present at the hospital's Emergency Department with alcohol-related issues—and the severity of those issues—has declined, with only three admissions to the hospital's Intensive Care Unit from Sydney's entertainment precinct since the package was introduced."

In response to critics that suggest alcohol-related violence has simply moved to the fringes, like Newtown, a smaller town outside Sydney, Hall said: "We understand the Royal Prince Alfred hospital, the major public hospital serving the Newtown area, is reporting no increase in alcohol-related presentations and admissions in the two years since the measures were introduced. Informal discussions with colleagues at other hospitals tell similar stories."

David Garber went to Australia once, and is on Twitter