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The Fate Of Sydney's Controversial Lockout Laws: Staying, Or Going?

The Sydney nightlife debate is heating up, with a lockout review due this month.

02/09/2016 10:33 AM AEST | Updated 02/09/2016 10:34 AM AEST
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Fairfax Media
Protesters march through Sydney streets in February

The debate over Sydney's controversial pub and club lockout laws is heating up as a long-awaited review of the measures nears release, and those opposing the lockouts challenge the framework's supporters to match the massive anti-lockout rallies.

The measures, which included a 1.30am lockout at nightspots and 3am "last drinks" in the city, were introduced in March 2014 after a string of violent alcohol-related assaults around the Sydney CBD, including the coward punch deaths of teenagers Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie.

The laws were immediately criticised as too heavy-handed, and have been blamed for the closure of many Sydney clubs, pubs and venues -- Kings Cross Liquor Accord chief executive Douglas Grand claimed at least 16 licensed venues had shut down in Kings Cross since 2014 -- as a City of Sydney report claimed foot traffic in entertainment zones had plummeted by as much as 80 percent.

Fairfax Media
Foot traffic has dropped dramatically in Kings Cross and other entertainment precincts

On the other side, pro-lockout voices such as the NSW government and health experts praised the effect of the changes. The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research claimed in 2015 that the lockout laws coincided with a 32 percent drop in assaults in Kings Cross and a 26 percent drop in the Sydney CBD; while St Vincent's Hospital claims the lockouts saw a 25 percent drop in the number of seriously injured patients attending their hospital over the weekend.

This week, a ReachTEL poll reported that nearly 60 percent of respondents supported extending the Sydney lockout laws statewide, while 70 percent supported keeping the laws in place in the city and Kings Cross.

Following the unexpected results -- which also claimed that people aged 18-34 were the most supportive of the laws -- the anti-lockout group Keep Sydney Open threw down the challenge to pro-lockout campaigners to prove their support with public rallies. Keep Sydney Open has held large public demonstrations attracting thousands of people, and spokesperson Tyson Koh dared the pro-lockout crowd to match them.

Fairfax Media
Keep Sydney Open rally, February 2016

"This poll apparently displays the overwhelming support for the lockouts. The thing that has a lot of people scratching their heads is that apparently a lot of this support comes from young people," Koh said in a video posted on Facebook.

"What I'd like to do, in response to that, is issue a challenge. Indeed if there is that much support for the lockout, then what Keep Sydney Open would like to do is see you guys have a rally. Because we had one about six months ago in February and it was one of the best attended single-issue rallies in memory... So I'd like to see something similar from all of the people that support the lockouts."

Koh also attacked what he called a "false dichotomy" of "lockouts or no lockouts", saying public safety could be improved while also allowing for a more vibrant nightlife. Instead of lockouts and drink restrictions, Koh suggested changes such as better 24-hour public transport, greater police presence and other entertainment options besides gambling or poker machines.

"This is not an issue that should be decided by winning or losing a poll," Koh told Fairfax Media, in response to the poll.

The ReachTEL poll came just days before an independent review into the lockouts was due to be delivered to the NSW government. However, the report has been delayed and will now be delivered on September 13, following an extension granted to its author Ian Callinan AC, after a Supreme Court decision last week ruled that certain venues in the city -- including strip clubs and music venues -- should not have been included in the lockout regulations.

"The Government is committed to ensuring a comprehensive statutory review of the suite of laws brought in two years ago to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence," the government said in a statement on its website.

"Mr Callinan has received more than 1,800 public submissions and input resulting from three roundtables into Sydney's night-time economy.​​​"

The NSW Police Association has flagged tentative support for changing the lockout laws.

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