Keep Sydney safe: Open for business

The current review of New South Wales liquor law reforms, introduced in February 2014, has generated heated debate, and a good deal of misinformation.

In the weeks ahead Drink Tank will highlight a number of key submissions to the Independent Review, separate the fact from the fiction and make the case in support of the measures.

Today, FARE’s Anthony Harrison puts a number of questionable industry claims under the microscope.


Police, paramedics, nurses, doctors and public health professionals have pitted their experience of a reduction in alcohol-related harm in the Sydney CBD Entertainment Precinct against industry interests and revellers unhappy with the restriction these measures have placed on their ability to party into the early hours of the morning.

That alcohol-related assaults have fallen cannot be disputed, but it appears that some are concerned that the prevented harm doesn’t warrant the impact they’ve seen on the night-time economy. So what does the evidence really show?

While the figure has varied by source, and naturally enough also changed over time, many publicised claims have the number of business closures in Kings Cross sitting at around 40. To deny that any of these businesses might have closed due to the new regulations would be wrong. But it’s important to acknowledge the misleading nature of some of these claims, and view the transformation that’s being observed in its long-term context, and in light of the harm-reduction it has delivered.

Surely Not blogger, the recently unmasked Chris Sinclair (former Events Manager for model Sarah Budge’s Kings Cross venue Crane Bar), whose passion on the topic extends to comparing a concerned residents’ group with ‘death cult’ terrorist organisation ISIS, recently provided a list of businesses whose closure he attributes to the new regulations.

The Goodgod Small Club made the list, despite the owners explicitly stating that the closure was not related to the new regulations. A McDonalds restaurant on George and Bridge Street was also included, despite McDonalds executives suggesting that the move was part of a ‘strategic repositioning’ in light of competition with other food retailers. Many of those listed were contained at single locations, such as six venues in the Exchange Hotel and two venues contained in Hugos Lounge.

The closure of Soho nightclub was also among those attributed to the lockout laws, despite the owner describing a “massive backlash” to his son’s conviction of rape on the premises (for which a retrial has now been ordered) in the preceding months. The Piano Room made the list despite closing several years prior to the lockout laws. Well-known venue, The Village, also made the list. However, New South Wales Police had specifically advised the City of Sydney to reject an application for extended trading hours from The Village due to, among other things, 70 police events including attempted murder, assault, drugs, stealing, malicious damage, domestic incidents and street offences. It’s worth noting that, despite this, the venue never appeared on the violent venues or three strikes registers.

The possibility that Taylor Square Newsagency, another business to make Sinclair’s list, may have closed due to changes in the way that people consume media, rather than reduced foot-traffic in the early hours of the morning, also seemed lost on Sinclair.

To take this list at face value, however, we might consider the available evidence for how many business closures may be expected in the absence of lockouts. Many of the businesses reported to have closed following the introduction of new measures were small businesses. Unfortunately, the survival rate of small businesses is relatively low. In the 12 months to June 2015, 8.6 per cent of small businesses (employing between one and 19 employees) exited the market across New South Wales. Of the 1,244 small businesses registered in the Darlinghurst and Potts Point-Woolloomooloo regions as of June 2014, this would equate to 100 exiting by June 2015. Considerably more than the 40 that have been identified, and for a great variety of reasons. Fortunately, the entry rate of new businesses is just as high. No surprise then that a local residents’ association has counted 70 new businesses in the area, including antiques dealers, ice-cream vendors, chemists, restaurants, hairdressers and yoga studios, as well as a number of new bars.

That isn’t to detract from the hardship experienced by employees displaced by business closures. However, the good news for hospitality workers is that New South Wales is experiencing a period of relative strength, with the lowest rate of seasonally-adjusted unemployment in Australia (5.3 per cent) in February 2016. In the two years to June 2015, there was a marked increase in the number of Accommodation & Food Service businesses (which includes pubs, bars and nightclubs) in both Darlinghurst (10.8 per cent) and Potts Point, Woolloomooloo (7.7 per cent). Strength in the industry was also reflected in Accommodation & Food Services employment across the state, with 8.4 per cent growth contributing an additional 21,000 jobs in the 12 months following reform of liquor regulation.

More good news. Industry sources are reporting that CBD Entertainment Precinct businesses have been successful in moving away from reliance on late-night alcohol sales to more diverse business models including food offerings. Many new businesses have sprung up to cash in on diversification of the region too.

And live music? While it’s difficult to identify the cause, the industry does appear to have experienced some challenges in recent years. It was heavily publicised that the Live Music Office reported a 40 per cent reduction in the value of door charge receipts and 19 per cent reduction in attendance across the CBD Entertainment Precinct in the two years to February 2015. This equates to average annual decreases of 20 and 9.5 per cent respectively. While these data have been conveyed as representing an adverse effect of liquor regulation, in fact such volatility pre-dated the measures. Live Performance Australia (which admittedly encompasses more than just music, but it does represent the majority of attendance and revenue) reported a New South Wales-wide 14.9 per cent reduction in revenue and 8.5 per cent reduction in attendance in 12 months to June 2012. Such volatility has also affected Western Australia, where lockout legislation is not in place, with live music venue closures being described as an “emergency situation”.

However, some evidence suggests that the tide might be turning for creative arts in New South Wales. Decline among the count of Creative Artists, Musicians, Writers and Performers businesses has slowed from 6.7 per cent in 2012-13 to 2.1 per cent in 2014-15.  The number of Performing Arts Operation businesses in New South Wales, which declined by 9.1 per cent in 2012-13, recorded growth of 5.4 per cent in 2014-15.

We all value a vibrant live music industry, but blaming a restriction on entry to premises after 1:30am for the difficulties it has faced doesn’t provide the full picture.

Returning to the original question: to what extent does the reduction in alcohol-related harm justify the impact that new regulations have had on the night-time economy?

When considering the misleading claims by vested industry groups about the magnitude of closures, the natural dynamism of businesses entering and exiting the market, and the successful diversification of business in an economic climate receptive to such changes, it’s difficult to see this as compelling evidence of an adverse impact.

On the contrary, while acknowledging that the regulations have helped to catalyse change in the area, it is obvious that a positive change has been achieved, not just as a result of the dramatic decline in alcohol-related assaults and associated hospitalisations, but in the creation of a vibrant local economy, supported by a diverse range of business opportunities and a safe environment for revellers, tourists and residents.


 

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Anthony Harrison

Anthony is a Senior Policy Officer at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. He has degrees in science and economics from the ANU, and is currently undertaking graduate study in psychology. Anthony previously worked in economic research in the Commonwealth Government. He is passionate about the benefits of preventive health measures, with particular interest in the taxation, marketing and availability of alcohol. When not at work or study, Anthony enjoys music festivals, reading and travel.

This article has 13 comments

  1. REBECCA Reply

    Excellent article. Thank you for telling it like it really is!

  2. Ted Reply

    Wow, what a load of baloney. You do realise that you’re a “vested interest group” too? Shame you have to try and tear everything down, criticise hard working people and make up facts to get your point across.

    • KXLocal Reply

      What facts have been made up? Every assertion is supported by evidence. Its a shame Keep Sydney Open fanatics cannot absorb truth even when presented with evidence.

  3. Bryce Reply

    This is not an excellent article. Please ignore the first comment. This is another case of a vested interest cherry picking to meet their argument. I am unfamiliar with the person you have chosen to directly contradict, but to hang them up as representative of the entire other side of the debate is misleading and misguided.

    Your statement “(…) revellers unhappy with the restriction these measures have placed on their ability to party into the early hours of the morning” makes the same presumptions – and errors – that most lock-out supporters are making.

    The goal must be for a 24 hour society. This has to be the goal to meet the needs of the service people who work odd hours and the requirements of a flagship international city in the most connected and enlightened generation ever.

    The people who are out at 2 am, especially on a weeknight, are rarely looking to kick on or “party”. Just as many want somewhere to sit, relax and enjoy a quiet drink or meal, just as you enjoyed when you finished work 8 hours earlier. They work the jobs that allow others to live their 9-to-5 lifestyles where restaurants are open when they finish work, late night shopping is a thing, & rubbish trucks aren’t a (more) regular feature of peak hour traffic jams.

    Do you deserve better services than these people because of the profession you chose? Are they lesser people who have earnt the disdain and discrimination of society and as such are required to return home immediately after work? Should they be deprived the right to socialise with their co-workers after a hard day’s work simply because it finished at a time that doesn’t instantly ring true to office workers?

    The article makes reference to the abundance of new businesses opening in place of old ones and the diversity they offer, but at the end of some peoples’ day a wander through any of Sydney’s late night zones offers the same 3 options – McDonalds, kebabs, or maybe Korean or Thai. And any time after 2am kebabs and Korean/Thai have generally left the building.

    There are many reasons for this and I am not saying it is purely a symptom of the lockout laws. But the lockout laws are having a regressive effect on businesses looking to offer alternative hours services. They are denying self-determination (and in some cases survival) from smaller businesses built on a model that predated the current, arguably draconian laws.

    All violence is bad violence and no one is stating otherwise. But as made abundantly clear by Matt Barrie’s incredibly well researched and worded submission, the statistics as they were stated were horribly misleading. The requirements for inclusion were subjective and extremely arbitrary, & even after that only translated to one additional instance per fortnight of any form of alcohol related admission to that specific hospital. This is not a violence statistic, it is a hospital admissions statistic, & an extremely low one at that.

    Not all dissenting voices are vested industry groups. A surge in hospitality which creates 3 new day shifts in cafes is of little use to the uni student or first home buyer(/second job hunter) only free for late night work. 5am Sunday morning finishes have paid for more tuition than most people are aware of, & have kept the breadline at bay for thousands more. These people have opinions too, but are rarely heard as they are thrown in with weekend revellers.

    In this era of snap decisions and obstinate ignorance I am not expecting to instantly change your or anyone else’s mind on something you clearly either strongly believe in, or are paid to strongly believe in. However I hope this has at the very least given you cause to pause and reflect on what the lockouts actually mean to the people who live and die by the nighttime economy. Regardless of your standpoint you must concede that the laws were introduced too quickly and without sufficient consultation to allow for any existing business to suitably adjust their models or negotiate and apply alternatives through landlords or council.

    Considering that in the recent Uber case the groudswell from ‘vested industry groups’ vs public demand resulted in a mandated $1 surcharge for Uber after new legislation massively devalued investment by people previous to the law change, why has no parallel compensation been proposed? Why are businesses which had operated without incident for many years suddenly being punished for a societal evolution beyond their control, & a law change they were unable to question, let alone oppose?

    Why is the casino – the state’s statistically most violent venue – able to trade on unrestricted and now unopposed?

    These are the questions which if answered in a satisfactory manner would go some way to justifying the decisions made thus far. At that point a fair and two-sided discussion could conceivably take place.

    Until then this should at least explain some of why regardless how many times people quote incorrect data sets, there is strong public belief in a healthy night time economy. Were it not ripped away unjustifiably amd prematurely in the first place your case would be far stronger.

    • joan Reply

      small bars and most restaurants are exempt from these laws. are you saying it’s not possible for the people who finish work after the lockouts to have after-work drinks and meals there? and BTW perhaps ambulance and hospital staff are a ‘vested interest’ as you claim, but their interest is vested in people’s health and safety, not quite the same thing as the profit-driven alcohol industry, eh?

      • REBECCA Reply

        Hear! Hear! The problem with so many anti-lockout supporters is that they do not really know the facts about the lockout laws, such as restaurants and small bars are exempt. So plenty places to still have quiet drinks. But all of the anti-lockout arguments are ‘legless’ and holey

      • Tim Reply

        Joan, small bars in prescribed precincts actually have a midnight close, and whereas they are permitted to apply for an Extended Trading Authorisation, none have been approved…Even if they were exempt, small bars by law have to close at 2am…
        And btw, I believe Bryce was referring to FARE and other research organisations not doctors and nurses as “vested interests”, and as they obtain substantial financial grants for the research they put out, peer reviewed by other like minded ‘academics” then they are well and truly profit-driven vested…

    • Enough! Reply

      Your assertion that “there is a strong public belief in a healthy night time economy” is so untested and general as to be meaningless – I could just as easily have stated “there is a strong public opposition to a grog-soaked violent night time economy”. Aside from a very small minority, the rest of the city, state and country seems perfectly happy to be home at night – yes, perhaps enjoying a few drinks before bedtime (whatever that time may be) – and just don’t feel the overwhelming need to be trawling the streets at 4am looking for another open bar or club. The awful impact that the quest for 24-hour grog has had on suburbs like the Cross and Potts Point, just to satisfy a tiny minority among whom are an even smaller group who behave like violent pyschos when they are boozed up, is justification enough to keep the current legislation in place, and to consider extending it to other areas susceptible to alcohol-related violence. Politicians that keep telling us that Sydney needs to have a vibrant night-time economy are working on the premise that if you keep repeating something, people will believe it. Well, I’m a well-adjusted intelligent human being and a 24-hour night-time economy is VERY LOW on my priorities, especially after years of living in the Cross and regularly seeing the definition of ‘vibrant’ – young girls sitting in gutters at 3am vomiting over themselves!! So vibrant!!

      • Matt Reply

        Why do you feel the need to judge and influence what other people do with their lives?

        I also don’t go out until 4am to bars however is it any of my business that other people want to?

        Is our whole purpose in life to improve some overall statistics?

        Just because most people don’t see the need to go out late and drink does that mean no-one should?

  4. Matt Reply

    Let’s imagine instead of bars we are talking about beaches. This is how it would look:

    There are a couple of drownings at Australian beaches that draw a lot of media coverage. The media coverage goes along the lines of the terrible loss of lives taken too soon and the dangers and quite scary statistics of swimming in the ocean and this creates a lot of public attention. The media does their best to create a kind of hysteria and paints the ocean as a very deadly, dangerous place.

    The Government is motivated by the public hysteria around the drownings and draws up a range of measures to make beaches safer. These include it being illegal to swim outside the flags, the number of beaches with flags is reduced and you are only allowed into the water up to your belly button.

    After the new regulations drownings significantly decrease. The Government is very proud of their laws and supporters include the Police who are happy they have to pull less dead bodies from the water and the general public is very swayed by the seeming large drop in the number of drownings. The beaches seem so much safer now. Opponents of the new laws point out that people going to the beach has dropped by 80%.

    There is a fierce public debate around the laws. The pro-safety crowd point out the drop in drownings and want the laws expanded. The pro-beach crowd are upset that a source of fun and pleasure has been taken away from them. The pro-safety crowd point out that no-one is stopping them going to the beach – they can still go and play in the sand if they want, they just can’t stick their head under.

    Ironically the pro-safety crowd is almost entirely made up of people who never go to the beach. The pro-beach crowd – the ones who technically need protecting – dislike the new laws. The pro-beach crowed also feel that there could have been better executed ways to make the beaches safer such as more swimming education in schools, more lifeguards and better education of tourists.

    The pro-beach crowd also point out that the chances of actually drowning at a beach was very small. Lower in fact than many other less publicized ways of being injured or being killed. The pro-safety crowd is very strong in recommending the regulations stay due to the drop in drownings. The pro-beach crowd point out that due to the significant drop in people going to the beach the rate of drowning is the same if not higher than it was before, it’s simply the count of drownings is less.

    A flow-on effect of the drop in visitors to the beach is a wide range of businesses closing from surf shops near to the beach, restaurants, ice-cream stores and so on. Pro-safety people suggest businesses close all the time, and there is general volatility in all markets, and the new regulations can’t be blamed for all those businesses closing.

    A debate is waged between the different factions with no resolution in sight.

    • Enough! Reply

      Matt – you forgot to add in your analogy that the pro-safety crowd had been putting up for years with tens of thousands of drunk, screaming beach-goers desperate to have that swim at 3 or 4am DESPITE being HEAVILY intoxicated and thus presenting a safety risk to both themselves, others in their party, the police, doctors and beach-rescue crews who would have to be on hand to drag them out of the surf and resuscitate them, often surrounded by 1000’s of similarly drunk and aggressive beach-goers; not to mention the nightly public urination, defecation, and regular brawls on the locals’ beach-front residences. Come to think of it, just like the lockouts in KX the restriction on swimming after hours in the dark would be an essential life-saving innovation, not a restriction on our human rights. Go back to the drawing board and see if you can come up with another nonsensical hypothesis. Lockouts save lives.

    • REBECCA Reply

      Very silly analogy but so typical of the anti-lockouts mindset. Drownings are usually accidents. Getting drunk, having chosen to take consume too much alcohol, especially in an area like Kings Cross which has been tacitly, if not quasi-actively, promoted by the state government as a place to go and do just that, is no accident. Alcohol is a legal drug and, therefore, it requires controls. That is the reality.

  5. Steve Reply

    I honestly can’t believe how so many otherwise intelligent people have been carried away by the propaganda being spread in this debate. It is ridiculous that Matt Barrie’s piece is seen as the ultimate truth by anti-lockout advocates, while at the same time actual experts who have spent most of their lives researching this issue are portrayed as somehow corrupted and incompetent. It’s Fox News type stuff, and it’s scary. I get that people want to back their side of the argument, but embracing conspiracy theories and utterly false assertions is not the way to do it. Here’s an article everyone on the anti-lockouts side needs to read in relation to Matt Barrie’s claims – http://m.smh.com.au/nsw/five-reasons-matt-barrie-is-wrong-on-sydneys-lockout-laws-20160407-go1drl.html

    And to those who like to cite the ‘80% drop in foot traffic’ data, it’s important to note that the same series of reports in 2010 recorded 80 incidents of anti-social behaviour in one small part of Kings Cross over a single hour — clearly a totally unacceptable and unsustainable situation.

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