Sydney set to review curbs on sales of alcohol

The main entertainment strip of Darlinghurst Road in Kings Cross. A review of alcohol laws in New South Wales is strongly backed by business groups and restaurants. Sydney's night-time economy employs about 36,000 people. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
The main entertainment strip of Darlinghurst Road in Kings Cross. A review of alcohol laws in New South Wales is strongly backed by business groups and restaurants. Sydney's night-time economy employs about 36,000 people. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

'Lock-out laws' introduced in 2014 have served their purpose, says NSW Premier

In 2012, an 18-year-old high school graduate was walking through one of Sydney's main nightlife districts when he was killed after a drunken stranger punched him in an unprovoked attack in Kings Cross.

Mr Thomas Kelly's death - and that of another 18-year-old in a similar drunken assault in 2013 - caused public outrage and led to the introduction of controversial measures to curb alcohol use.

These so-called "lock-out laws" were introduced by the New South Wales government in 2014. The measures included banning late-night alcohol sales at bars and nightclubs in Kings Cross and the inner city, as well as curfews to prevent patrons entering or re-entering such places.

In addition, all stores in the state were banned from late-night sales of alcohol.

But the laws caused a fierce debate involving police and doctors, who largely backed the measures, against critics - led by young campaigners and local business owners - who said they had ruined the city's nightlife and led to closures of nightclubs, bars and music venues.

Now, the state government has ordered a review of the measures and signalled that it wants to wind them back.

..."lock-out laws" were introduced by the New South Wales government in 2014. The measures included banning late-night alcohol sales at bars and nightclubs in Kings Cross and the inner city, as well as curfews to prevent patrons entering or re-entering such places.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the laws had helped to reduce assaults in the city centre and Kings Cross, but it was time to "take stock".

"There are many in the community with very strong views on this, but the facts are since the laws have been in place, they've served their purpose," Ms Berejiklian told 2GB Radio late last month.

"Some people argue the laws have gone too far. Others have said we've got to keep them where they are, to keep the community safe."

The main hospital near Kings Cross, St Vincent's, has experienced a dramatic drop in alcohol-related injuries treated there since the lock-out laws, including a reduction in serious facial fractures of more than 60 per cent.

Police and nurses have also urged the government not to wind back the laws.

But the review was strongly backed by business groups, entertainment venues and restaurants. Sydney's night-time economy employs an estimated 36,000 people.

A chamber of commerce in Kings Cross said foot traffic had fallen by 80 per cent following the laws, transforming the district into a primarily residential area rather than a dining and entertainment destination.

The laws prompted a vocal public campaign which united young activists, right-wing libertarians and left-wing parties such as the Greens. They even led to the formation of a political party, called Keep Sydney Open, which narrowly missed out on winning a seat in the state election in March.

A previous review of the legislation, in 2016, led to the laws being relaxed slightly. The ban on alcohol sales at inner-city venues was changed from 3am to 3.30am and curfews were put back from 1.30am to 2am. A ban on store sales was pushed back from 10pm to 11pm.

But there are growing calls for further changes.

The father of Mr Thomas Kelly, Mr Ralph Kelly, said he supported the review, saying the laws should be relaxed or repealed if evidence showed "we are now deemed to be a city which is safer for everyone to enjoy the amenities of its nightlife". But he added that a repeal should not proceed if it meant returning to 2012-era levels of violence.

"We don't want to see violence back on our streets," he told The Sydney Morning Herald. "It's not good for us as a city, as a community, nobody wants that."

The inquiry into the laws will report to the state Parliament by the end of September.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2019, with the headline 'Sydney set to review curbs on sales of alcohol'. Print Edition | Subscribe