A review of Sydney’s night-time economy was always going to result in change. The pendulum was always going to swing away from the status quo. It was always just a question of how far.
But the recommendations by the New South Wales Parliament Joint Select Committee on Sydney’s Night-Time Economy are gravely irresponsible and represent a wrecking ball that will destroy the measures that have saved lives and kept Sydney-siders safe.
Despite assurances from Committee Chair Natalie Ward that Sydney deserves a nightlife economy that is not predicated on the overconsumption of alcohol – We want to promote a diverse, innovative, world class and fun night time. Crucially, Sydney’s nightlife should be experience based, not reliant on alcohol – the report’s paradoxical recommendations strongly suggest otherwise.
Perhaps the Sydney measures have simply been too successful.
And the Committee guilty of an absurd logic that would find a tiger-proof fence no longer necessary by virtue that there were no longer any tigers in the compound, regardless of how many tigers remain outside the perimeter.
Responding to the report’s release, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said,
“We always need to find the right balance between community safety and boosting the night-time economy.”
But to pay more than lip service to that aspiration, Premier Berejiklian must consider the NSW Government’s response very carefully.
Speaking to media this week FARE Chief Executive Michael Thorn said the evidence is ironclad that increasing the availability of alcohol triggers more violence and harm.
“Despite the evidence, the Committee has turned a blind eye to why these laws were enacted in the first place and I urge the Premier to remember her promises to the parents whose sons and daughters have been injured or killed through alcohol-fuelled violence on the streets of Sydney.”
That opinion is shared by former NSW Labor Leader John Robertson. Speaking on Sky News Mr Robertson recalled the violence and trauma associated with Sydney’s nightlife before the measures were introduced.
“These places were just mayhem and something had to happen. I saw what can only be described as chaotic disregard for public order on the part of a lot of people that were there.”
Mr Robertson says there was an unwillingness by licensees to take responsibility for what was going on, and blaming everyone else bar themselves for what was happening on the streets.
“There were publicans more interested in pouring grog down the throats of people and getting money. When they created a problem on their premises, just throwing them out on the street and saying, ‘well my hands are clean, and it’s not my problem.’”
Mr Thorn says there is zero evidence to support any of the protections to health and safety put forward by the Committee.
Mr Robertson agrees, stating that no Committee recommendations go beyond solutions that were suggested in 2014, and that they will fail to address the core issue of alcohol.
“My real worry is that we’ve got a problem with alcohol in this country and I’m no wowser and I like a beer and all the rest of it, but it tends to lead to people … thinking they can fight. They want to punch on, they don’t think about it because they are so full of grog that they are unable to think straight. And my concern is that we will go back to where we were.”
Arriving ‘back where we were’ may happen sooner rather than later with the Committee recommending removing late-night measures “with appropriate urgency”.
Mr Thorn warns the Government would be aiding and abetting alcohol harm by rushing to dismantle any lifesaving measures ahead of the Christmas New Year period
“Alcohol-related harm increases over the summer, and acting rashly would simply accommodate the alcohol industry and allow it to leverage its most lucrative season.”
Mr Robertson told Sky’s Paul Murray, that the Committee has swallowed a giant lie.
“I think that people have been conned. There are so few, and were so few live music venues. The Whitlams wrote a song ‘Blow up the Pokies’. The pokies killed live music in this industry, not the lock-out laws. The pubs chose to close at 3am. They weren’t compelled to close at 3am. They were only told to stop serving alcohol.
If they wanted to play live music, if they wanted to have people dance they were able to stay open. There was nothing said they must close and then what they have done is dress this up into something else.”
Mr Robertson says he is not angry, but instead disappointed and concerned.
“I’m particularly concerned for the cops on the frontline, the paramedics, the medicos and the nursing staff who could potentially be confronted with what was happening five years ago.”
The NSW police may have someone in there corner. Speaking to the ABC, Police Minister David Elliot said he would take the advice of police when it came to considering the report’s recommendations.
“The police commissioner and I will go through that report and we will see what sort of feedback we will give government and I will certainly take the views of the police force to cabinet if required. It would not be the first time I am at odds with everybody.”
That note of caution would be well adopted by the NSW Premier.
Last month, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) presented new research to the Parliamentary Inquiry showing nearly 2,500 non-domestic violence assaults were avoided across Kings Cross and Sydney’s CBD over the five years of the last drinks measures.
BOCSAR also reported a rise in overall non-domestic assaults of between 18 and 30 per cent across the rest of Sydney over the same period.
Mr Thorn says these increasing rates of violence are a direct result of the Government’s failure to extend the late-night measures, which were repeatedly advocated by public health, medical and law enforcement bodies.
“It was predictable that over time and as the night-time economy adjusted to the changes in the CBD and Kings Cross that people’s movement to other areas would see a rise in assaults. It was foreseeable and it should have been addressed.
Instead of being addressed, the Committee has now exacerbated this problem by recommending that licences could be transferred to outside the safe entertainment precincts.”
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said in a statement she welcomed the inquiry’s recommendations and hoped they would “breathe oxygen into Sydney’s nightlife”.
Mr Thorn fears it is more likely the Inquiry’s recommendations are the kiss of death and says the Premier must understand that in the future, every death from alcohol-fuelled violence in Sydney will be on her head.