By James Elton-Pym
Small pubs and bars along Oxford Street have been hit hard by the NSW government’s controversial lockout laws, local business owners have reported.
The legislation was introduced in February last year to curb alcohol-fuelled violence and are now in effect across entertainment precincts in parts of Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, The Rocks and Kings Cross.
The laws were introduced partly in reaction to the one-punch killings of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie.
But businesses on Oxford Street claim the laws, which require venues to lock out patrons from 1.30am and stop serving alcohol at 3am, are punishing them for a problem outside their control.
“We’ve never had [a violent incident],” Claude Bereny, owner of the Beauchamp Hotel, told City Hub.
“It’s quite gentrified around here but we’ve been hit by the sledgehammer. Oxford Street has been in decline for a long time… but the lockout has certainly worsened it. It’s just another reason not to come to Oxford Street.”
Mr Bereny said the Beauchamp was “cutting costs and surviving” but had lost 25-30 percent of its revenue since the laws were introduced.
In February, the Darlinghurst Business Partnership asked the state government to either repeal the laws or apply them statewide, saying the lockout laws were an example of “legislating for all based on the lowest common denominator”.
Mr Bereny said the laws had created an “uneven playing field” and were driving nightlife to suburbs outside the lockout zone like Newtown and Bondi.
The NSW state election last month saw Independent MP Alex Greenwich retain the seat of Sydney. Mr Greenwich opposes blanket lockouts in Darlinghurst and Kings Cross and has said they should only be applied to misbehaving venues.
“I support lockouts for poorly run venues. We need to have diversity in our nightlife,” he told a meet-the-candidates forum hosted at an Oxford Street venue last month.
The lockout laws are supported by the Liberal and Labor parties.
Doctors at St Vincent’s Hospital earlier this year reported a 20 percent decrease in extreme drug and alcohol-related injuries, which has been cited as evidence of the law’s effectiveness.
Lockouts have already been implicated in the closure of the Flinders Hotel, a well-known Oxford Street institution popular with the LGBTIQ community.
“It’s been a good run but [former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell] got us in the end. We know it’s sudden but please come in tonight and pour one out for your fallen homie. Thanks for all the good times,” the owners wrote in a sudden January 8 Facebook post announcing the closure.
Former patrons lamented the news in the comments section below the post. “How sad! My first ever gay pub!” wrote one Facebook user.
Mr Bereny said the laws were threatening heritage hotels along Oxford Street. The Beauchamp has been running as a hotel for 120 years.
“Since the lockout was introduced the profitability is no longer there, which is why they’re being turned to alternative uses. It will affect the traditional uses of these heritage hotels because they’ll have to be converted to residential or some other commercial use,” Mr Bereny said.
“Once the businesses are gone where’s the GST revenue that the state government relies on?”
The laws were set to be formally reviewed at the end of a two-year trial period in February 2016, but a spokesperson for the Premier recently announced an early review of the lockout laws would be carried out in June this year using 12-month data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Fairfax Media reported.
Ralph Kelly, father of one of the teenagers killed in an alcohol-fueled attack in Kings Cross, said any softening of the laws would be “disappointing”.
Mr Greenwich said the area needed to be reactivated, saying he also supported measures to calm road traffic and encourage pedestrians to explore Oxford Street, including the construction of cycleways and a tram line. He also opposes the traffic clearway currently in place along the strip.
“I’ll continue to fight hard for better traffic conditions on Oxford Street as that’s key to the reactivation of the area,” he said.