City News

Lockout laws lacklustre at least

Darling Harbour, part of Sydney's entertainment precinct impacted by the lockout at night. Photo: Allison Hore

By ALLISON HORE

New data released last week casts doubt on the claims that Sydney’s controversial ‘lockout laws’ have led to a decrease in violence in the CBD areas that they cover.

The University of Sydney research involved using new methods of statistical analysis to look into existing violent crime data. The preliminary findings show that the effect of the lockout laws on non-domestic violent crime statistics may only be indirect, because, as a result of the laws, overnight foot traffic has nearly halved in Kings Cross.

These findings come as the NSW cross-party Parliamentary Committee looks into the laws as part of a review of the city’s night time economy kicks off. The committee will be consulting with NSW Police and health, community, entertainment and music groups.

“After five years of operation, it makes sense for us to now take stock and examine whether any further changes should be made,” NSW Premier Berejiklian said in a statement to the media upon announcement of the committee.

Are these laws actually effective?

The committee is made up of both members of the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council and is chaired by Liberal party member Natalie Ward with Independent member Alex Greenwich playing deputy. In a pre-election interview with City Hub, Greenwich said addressing the city’s lockout laws and bringing vibrancy back to the CBD was one of his key priorities.

Dr Roman Marchant from Sydney University’s Centre for Translational Data Science told the Sydney Morning Herald that he hoped to submit the findings of this research to the committee. He said the data “raised questions” about whether or not the laws were effective.

“With this analysis we’re showing that lockout laws don’t have an effect in the CBD, where actually the bulk of the crime is happening,” he said. “So, therefore, it obviously allows you to have a think about are these laws actually effective?”

Research from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) in 2017 showed that alcohol-related violence was down 49% in the Kings Cross precinct and 13% in the CBD entertainment precinct.

But Dr Marchant says this trend started well before the lockout law took effect in 2014, and that these numbers can also be accounted for by the overall reduction in foot traffic in the area.

The BOSCAR data also showed that in surrounding areas, where CBD and Kings Cross drinkers have been ‘displaced’ to (such as Chippendale, Ultimo and Surry Hills), alcohol-related violence had risen by 12%, and in the eastern suburbs and Newtown by 17%.

Lobby group and political party Keep Sydney Open said that since the BOSCAR results were released in 2016 they ‘called bullshit’ on the way the data has been quoted and analysed and welcomed Dr Marchant’s new analysis.

“A reduction in assaults has always been, and remains, at the heart of any defence for the lock outs,” they said in a Facebook post. “Three years on, researchers using far more sophisticated techniques are making the same observations. Theirs is an important and timely contribution to the evidence base as we ramp up the pressure on our legislators to fix the mess.”

Queensland’s lockout laws also ineffective

Earlier last week, separate results of analysis by The University of Queensland, Griffith University and Queensland University of Technology into the effectiveness of Queensland’s lockout laws were released. The research concluded that Queensland’s laws were ineffective in curbing alcohol-fuelled violence.

The study revealed that the state’s laws had encouraged punters to “preload” on alcohol before arriving at the venues meaning that people were showing up to popular night spots already drunk. It also showed that there had been no change in the number of assaults since the laws were introduced.

From 2014 to 2017 researchers took blood alcohol readings on pub and club-goers in Brisbane’s night time entertainment districts (NEDs) as well as interviewing them about their behaviour.

“Study results were consistent with our predictions that following the introduction of the legislation, patrons increased their alcohol preloading and entered NEDs later,” Griffith University Associate Professor Grant Devilly said. “People were substantially more inebriated as they entered the NEDs after the legislative change.”

NSW Committee chair Natalie Ward said the inquiry into the law’s effectiveness is important, not only to ensure that the city remains safe for night time punters, but also that the city provides the kind of night time economy expected from a world city.

“We want people to enjoy a night out in Sydney’s entertainment districts without the fear or threat of violence. We also want to ensure that there are options available for those people who are able to enjoy Sydney’s nightlife responsibly,” she explained.

Dr Marchant’s research is yet to be peer reviewed. But should it clear the peer review stage it could be a powerful piece of research for the committee’s consideration.