One week ago, Matt Barrie, the chief executive of Freelancer.com wrote an extensive piece on LinkedIn which was scathing of the effects of the controversial lockout laws in NSW, introduced in 2014. The post quickly went viral, being viewed almost one million times and trending all over social media in Australia. Following Barrie’s post on LinkedIn, the debate surrounding NSW’s lockout laws has once again come to the fore. Barrie’s post comes at a time where the laws are up for an independent review, having been introduced back in 2014 following a spate of deaths and assaults in Sydney’s CBD.
The statistics put forth by Barrie in his post are damning. From the years 2012-2015, foot traffic in important CBD streets such as King’s Cross and Oxford Street had been reduced by 84%, according to a report commissioned by the City of Sydney council. This is in addition to a 60% reduction in foot traffic from 2010-2012 which occurred from a previous tightening of regulations. The result of this was a 40% reduction in trade for businesses in the vicinity of the CBD. Importantly, the 1:30am lockout prevents a ‘secondary peak’ of business between 3-4 am in the morning. As a result, bars and clubs are missing out on hours of trade each Friday and Saturday, having a devastating effect on their businesses. According to Barrie, the City of Sydney’s report has also employed statistical tricks to help present their side of the argument. In order to justify claims that business growth was continuing despite the lockouts, the report added in additional precincts outside the CBD in order to prop up the numbers of businesses trading compared to previous reports.
In reply to Barrie’s post, the Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird, took to Facebook to present his side of the case. One of the main arguments which Baird made was to cite that assaults in King’s Cross had been reduced by 60% since the laws were introduced two years ago. In his post, Baird also refuted claims that the laws had a negative impact on trade and businesses. He did this by claiming that the amount of small bars in the CBD had doubled since the introduction of the measures.
Following Baird’s post, the Director of New South Wales’ Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, came out publicly to state that Baird misled with his use of statistics in his Facebook post. For example, Weatherburn argues that there was already a significant downward trend in alcohol-related assaults going back to 2008. Comparing numbers from prior to 2014 and after 2014 doesn’t particularly work for this reason, he said. Adjusting for the downward trend, overall assaults were down by around 45% in King’s Cross and approximately 20% in the CBD overall, Weatherburn stated.
This is not to dismiss the importance of tackling alcohol-fuelled violence, however. Clearly it is an important issue, and one which needs to be acknowledged and dealt with in some capacity. A blanket restriction on trading hours, however, is not the answer. A broader cultural shift in the drinking culture in Australia is required. The nightlife in European cities shows how this can occur without imposing more regulation. A more local example is the case of Melbourne, which quickly dropped lockout laws after trialling them in 2008. In this example, the laws actually led to more assaults in the hours before the 2am lockout time. Lockout laws, therefore, as well as being prohibitive to traders in the CBD, are not a guarantee of reduced rates of violence.
For South Australians, the results of the lockout laws in New South Wales should prove to be a cautionary tale. As it is, South Australia’s economy is among the worst in the country, with unemployment currently at 7.2 percent. If South Australia were to follow the lockout law model of New South Wales and also potentially Queensland, it is almost inevitable that this rate would rise as businesses close and overall late-night trade in the CBD is hampered. Lockout laws would also go against Labor’s vision of revitalising the CBD. After all, one of the main reasons for building the revamped Adelaide Oval, was the flow-on effect to nearby restaurants and bars. Restricting trade and opportunities for potential customers heading into the CBD after a sporting event or concert at the Oval is surely contrary to this vision. We have already seen the effects of the lockout laws on nightlife in New South Wales. South Australia, for the sake of its already ailing economy, must not follow suit.