Controversial lockout laws lifted to revive dying city
Controversial lockout restrictions on bars, pubs and clubs across the Sydney CBD will be scrapped by Premier Gladys Berejiklian in a bid reignite the city's flagging night-life.
In a monumental turnaround, the premier has conceded Sydney's night-life needed a rev-up while noting how the city had transformed in the five years since lockouts were imposed.
Not only has the city undergone a dramatic transformation with areas such as Central, Barangaroo and Pyrmont revitalised, alternate transport options such as ride-sharing and the soon-to-be-opened light rail had also emerged to disperse people.
However, the restrictions in the Kings Cross precinct where teenagers Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie died in separate assaults in 2012 and 2013 will remain.
It is understood changes to legislation to lift the lockouts will occur later this year.
The move follows the release of a parliamentary report into Sydney's night-time economy, following a joint select committee inquiry established in May.
The three-month inquiry received almost 800 submissions and heard scathing evidence including from Merivale boss Justin Hemmes who declared Sydney a ghost town after sunset.
Hemmes revealed he also had to deny pop superstar Madonna entry to her own afterparty.
While the parliamentary report has until September 30 to be tabled, Ms Berejiklian confirmed her government would lift the restrictions.
"While we will await the committee's report, I agree it's time to enhance Sydney's night-life," Ms Berejiklian told The Sunday Telegraph.
"Sydney is Australia's only global city and we need our night-life to reflect that. The night time economy is a key driver of jobs in our city and we need to do everything we can to strengthen it.
"Community safety will always be a major focus for my Government, but we certainly need a balanced approach."
Ms Berejiklian also conceded that if the lifting of the lockouts did not work, the restrictions could be reintroduced.
Introduced by the O'Farrell government in 2014 to stamp out alcohol-fuelled violence, the Liquor Amendment Bill required venues in a region bounded by Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Cockle Bay, The Rocks, Haymarket and Surry Hills to refuse entry to patrons after 1.30am with last drinks to be served at 3am.
In a move criticised by Mr Hemmes and other venue operators, exemptions were given to The Star casino.
As for whether the restrictions were working, the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research told the inquiry that non-domestic assaults had dropped 53 per cent in Kings Cross and four per cent in the CBD since lockouts were introduced.
But while the laws had reduced the number of assaults, the benefit was diminishing over time, it found.
Factors that have contributed to the premier's stance include the emergence of new transport options around the CBD to disperse patrons, including ride-sharing options, Uber and the arrival of light rail later this year.
At the same time, Sydney itself had changed dramatically over the past five years with areas such as Central, Barangaroo and Pyrmont undergoing revitalisation, offering new areas for people to explore beyond the traditional nightspots.
The move to re-open Sydney is also consistent with the views of Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres, who have both been focusing on finding ways to grow investment, boost jobs and make Sydney a more attractive global destination for business and tourists.
During the inquiry, Mr Hemmes argued the licensing restrictions in place over Sydney had diminished the economic viability of the CBD post sundown.
"The reality is that as night falls, Sydney's CBD quickly and quietly becomes a ghost town," he said.
The changes will require new legislation, which is expected to be introduced later this year.
Jacqui Taubman, 27, from Darling Point, said she would be much more inclined to go out if the lock out laws were relaxed.
"Of course I'd go out more, I think everyone will, the city at the moment is so restrictive," she said.
"The laws have changed the way that Sydney feels so much.
"Because of the laws, people have less of an opportunity to go out and celebrate where and when they want to.
"I'd like to see Sydney become more like Europe. Europeans in general just embrace life and they have that culture where everyone has got that passion for having fun and enjoying themselves."
Freshwater's Laura Kranz, 29, said she'd appreciate the opportunity to end the night on her own terms.
"I have been going out less since the laws were introduced, it's not to say I don't go out it just cuts the night a bit short," she said.
"It's definitely shut down all of the CBD area so there's only that's casino that's open late now. Just in general I think it's a bit of a dampener of going out in Sydney since the laws were introduced.
"If you go to Melbourne, you really don't have the same feeling, they don't have the restrictions like what we do in Sydney," she said.