Sydney's controversial lockout laws have been relaxed, with a new closing time of 3.30am available for live entertainment.
NSW premier Mike Baird announced on Thursday that the restrictions would be wound back by half an hour, with the lockout time for venues stretching from the current 1.30am to the new 2am, while the current "last drinks" at 3am will also be pushed back 30 minutes. Venues that "offer genuine live entertainment, live performances or art and cultural events" will be able to apply for exemptions to the current laws; it appears that the current rules will apply to venues that don't meet those conditions.
The statewide 10pm closure of takeaway alcohol sales will also be relaxed, with bottle shops and booze delivery services allowed to trade until 11pm. The changes "will commence in January", according to the government.
The changes come after recommendations from a September review of the lockouts. Former High Court justice Ian Callinan said a 2am lockout and 3.30am last drinks should be trialled in venues that offered live entertainment, such as music venues.
"Mr Callinan found that the lockout laws introduced in February 2014 have resulted in 'much safer, quieter and cleaner areas'," Baird said.
"He made some common sense suggestions for changes that we are confident will further enhance night-life in the precincts without undermining the essential purpose of the laws – which is to make the CBD and the Cross places where people can enjoy a safe night out."
Deputy premier Troy Grant said the changes struck a balance between safety and enjoyment.
"We've found a balance that will contribute to lessening alcohol-fuelled violence whilst still allowing our global city to thrive and be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike," he said.
"The extension of takeaway and home delivery alcohol sales and the later lockout times will be in place by January to allow the community and businesses to capitalise over the busy summer period."
The lockout measures, which took effect across most of the Sydney CBD, were introduced in March 2014 after a string of violent alcohol-related assaults around the city 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.
The lockouts sparked several massive protests across Sydney, with thousands of people complaining about the effects the restrictions have had on Sydney music, arts, entertainment and culture. Baird's former opposition to changes to the lockouts, as well as the controversial exemption for The Star casino from the measures, led to fierce attacks on Baird and a new nickname -- "Casino Mike".
However, health experts have called for the Sydney-style lockouts to go national. St Vincent's Hospital, whose intake area includes the King's Cross and city hotspots, said the Sydney laws led to dramatic drops in assaults and other alcohol-related injuries. St Vincent's Health Australia's CEO, Toby Hall, told The Huffington Post Australia in May he wanted to see the laws nationwide.
"The evidence in Sydney... is the early closing in lockouts has led to a 10 percent reduction in assaults. That one lever has reduced assault rates, it's a fairly compelling argument," he said.
"Crime is down [in Sydney]. It's working, reducing costs, reducing harm. It is something we should be looking at."