Community responds to Sydney city lockouts ahead of Mardi Gras
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s decision to fast track tough new alcohol restrictions, which will see pubs and bars in Sydney’s CBD forced to impose 1.30am lockouts and a 3am last drinks call, has prompted a wave of concern from the community.
The laws, which were previously planned to commence in April, will now come into force on February 24, midway through the Mardi Gras season, one of the peak times for tourism to the area.
O’Farrell said there will be stiff penalties for venues that fail to comply with the new laws.
“I expect the vast majority of venues will do the right thing and implement the new trading conditions without incident,” O’Farrell said.
“However, any failure to comply can result in fines of up to $11,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 12 months – and is an offence that can incur a strike under the NSW Government’s Three Strikes disciplinary scheme."
Representing the reaction of licensed premises and patrons in the Oxford Street precinct, co-ordinator of the Surry Hills Liquor Accord, David Cass, told SX “the concern of licensed premises relate to the 1.30am and 3am ‘spills’ – when hordes of patrons will not be admitted into venues and are forced onto the streets. This is where a hugely increased police focus will be needed to ensure law and order”.
Sydney MP Alex Greenwich warned that bringing forward the start of lockouts and early venue closures without consultation would be a “recipe for chaos”.
“If the Government is serious about making its plan work, it would work with venue operators, police and transport services before commencing changes to ensure they are seamless and inform communities to reduce confusion on the streets,” Greenwich said.
Greenwich expected the restrictions to trading hours could have a negative impact on this year’s Mardi Gras celebrations.
“Although official Mardi Gras events fall outside the times and location of the new conditions, many people celebrating the Mardi Gras festival including international visitors will be prevented from going to LGBTI venues along Oxford Street.”
Greenwich believed this would result in lengthy queues which increased the potential for conflict. “And all of this announced just three weeks before our community welcomes tens of thousands of visitors”
Mardi Gras CEO Michael Rolick was quick to assure members of the community there are a number of events produced by Mardi Gras which aren’t affected by the new laws. “For example the Mardi Gras Party is licensed until 8am. We always encourage patrons at our events to act responsibly, and pride ourselves on creating an environment where people can enjoy themselves safely.”
Cass suggested many licensed venues would no longer be able to operate extended trading but instead would be forced toreduce hours.
“Many licensed venues have determined that it will no longer be viable to stay open past 3am due to exorbitant costs associated with weekend penalty rates and employing security personnel during times when alcohol sales are not permitted,” Cass said.
Shadd Danesi, owner of Darlinghurst nightclub Arq, expressed his disappointment at the legislation and the way the issue of alcohol-related violence has so far been handled.
“There is no doubt something needs to be done about it – but the hoteliers are not to blame for all the violence on the street and it’s distracting from what the real problems are.”
Danesi sees the implementation of lockouts as a last resort and believes the government should have explored other solutions.
“Before they attack the hoteliers, perhaps they should put more police on the beat, gave the police better powers, looked at education and accountability and sentencing.
“I’m disappointed the government didn’t look at other measures before destroying the lives of hard working decent people.”