by JOHN MOYLE
On Tuesday 14th January 2020 Sydney will wake to what it has wanted for five years when the lockout laws will be repealed. The changes will come into effect for the CBD and Oxford Street, but not Kings Cross, which the NSW Government Response to Night Time Economy report says will be subject to “a review of these conditions (that) should be completed within 12 months, taking into account diversity of venues and saturation of high impact venues”.
“As a member of the Inquiry into Sydney’s Night-Time Economy I certainly believe the committee hear enough evidence to support removing blanket lockout laws in Kings Cross, while potentially maintaining restrictions for some venues,” Cate Faehrmann, Greens Member of the Legislative Council said. “Kings Cross is almost unrecognisable now to what it was five years ago.”
Sydney’s lockouts were introduced by the O’Farrell government in 2014 in response to two king-hit deaths in Kings Cross, both caused by aggressors from outside the area.
The changes will include the removal of 1.30am last entry for all licensed venues in the CBD and Oxford Street, the extension of last drinks by 30 minutes for venues with a good record, allowing drinks to be served in glass after midnight and the extension of bottle shop hours across the state until midnight Monday to Saturday and to 11pm on Sundays.
Sydney’s lord mayor Clover Moore, who has been an opponent of the lockouts, welcomed the changes and said “I look forward to working with the NSW Government and the wider community to fix the damage caused by the lockouts and put in place policies that will allow a review of the laws in Kings Cross upon review in 12 months.”
Aaron Edwards owns the 99 capacity small bar Bitter Phew on Oxford Street and says the repeal will mean a lot for him and his staff, not only in extended hours but in lowering the stress levels of his staff.
“For us there is the potential for an extra hour of trade and there is a lot less stress for the staff and myself to make sure everything in compliant at 1.30 in the morning,” Edwards said. “We might make up to an extra $1000 for that extra hour and that is a whole staff member’s salary for the year.”
For Edwards that extra staff member will also mean that he will be able to reduce his hours from his present 80 a week. Presently the Bitter Phew draws around 50 per cent of its clientele from locals, with 20 per cent from the CBD and the rest Edwards describes as “destination” customers.
“I can see Oxford Street becoming more community-based and lifestyle again, and there is a lot of money sitting on the sidelines to see what is going to happen,” Edwards said.
Kings Cross reactions
In Kings Cross the reactions were more subdued but still welcomed.
The New Hampton is a 500 capacity bar/bistro built on the site of the old Hampton Court Hotel. The new premises were in the early throes of fit-out when the lockouts were introduced in 2014.
“You would have never have done it if you had of known,” Kieran Coleman, co-owner, New Hampton Hotel said. “It had a very quick impact, like a shotgun to the head.”
Being classified as a larger venue the hotel will still be required to operate identity scanners.
“We have to maintain these seven nights a week at a cost of $2000 a week to operate,” Coleman said.
The ID scanners are only implemented in Kings Cross and carry hefty fines for venues that do not use a licensed operator or mismanage their use.
Brandon Martignago owns Dulcie’s, a welcomed 66-capacity small bar addition to Darlinghurst Road on the site of a former strip club.
“We are a small bar and are essentially outside of the restrictions brought in by the lockouts,” Martignago said. “We have done five years of the lockouts already and we are starting to adapt, and it’s definitely good that we have changed from being a strip club/night club area, but I would like the lockouts to be lifted to encourage more diverse businesses that can present a different and fresh version of Kings Cross.”
The reactivation of the Metro Theatre to revitalise the area is one idea that is gathering momentum in the Cross. The 1000-seater live theatre, built in 1939, has been sitting idle since being sold by film director George Miller in April 2019 after being on the market for almost a year.
“The reactivation of the Metro Theatre as a live venue would bring a thousand people into the area for a performance and they would be people going to a meal beforehand or afterwards, and this would certainly revitalise the Cross, but we haven’t seen any proposal at this stage for that to happen,” City Councillor Professor Kerryn Phelps said.