BY CHRISTOPHER HARRIS
Critics have slammed a push by the City of Sydney Council for more regulation of backpacker hostels in Kings Cross fearing this will force budget accomodation out of the area.
Last month, a German backpacker was hospitalised after falling four storeys from the veranda of a Victoria Street hostel.
Now City of Sydney Independent Councillor Jenny Green, a resident in the area, has said something needs to be done around responsibility for enforcing rules about drinking and drug use in hostels.
“The near death experience of a young German backpacker who, police inform me, was intoxicated and fell 10 metres from backpacker hostel into a neighbouring property, highlights the existing dangerous anomaly of the lack of legislation and regulatory controls for the good management of backpacker hostels operating under old DAs,” Clr Green said.
There are 25 hostels in the Kings Cross area, housing up to 3000 people at any one time.
A City spokesperson said that because hostels operate under old consents, which don’t require Plans of Management, the Council was left with limited enforcement options when problems arose.
“Regulatory and legislative amendments are urgently required to address unregulated backpacker accommodation providers, the safety of their guests, anti-social behaviour, and the impacts on neighbours,” the spokesperson told City Hub.
Clr Green said that local residents’ amenity has been seriously affected by “continual backpacker anti-social behaviour every night of week”.
“The City of Sydney welcomes young travellers, and it is of great concern that their safety is at risk while in backpacker premises which potentially operate with minimal regulatory standards.”
But there are suspicions that the concern for the backpackers hostels is a guise to rid the area of the rowdy behaviour of primarily European youth on working holidays.
City Hub understands that Clr Green has contacted numerous departments of the state government including the Minister for Local Government, Minister for Planning &
Infrastructure, Minister for Fair Trading and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier.
But Clr Green’s campaign to do something about the sometimes dangerous activities of the backpackers has been questioned by others who live in the suburb.
Stephan Gyory, a Potts Point resident, told City Hub that existing laws for these venues have been adequate for the past 20 years, and it was only now that the area was gentrified that it had become a problem. “Now they’ve got rid of the bars and nightclubs, of course they’re going to get rid of the backpacker hostels,” Mr Gyory said.
“The problem in this state is that planning instruments are fully designed to aid rapid, cheap developers with no thought to development that protects existing venues and encourages late night trading; i.e. the local culture, so we get a city which is full of apartments owned by old people who go to bed at 10pm. Again, it’s screw the waiter who serves you your meal if she wants to go out for a drink after she’s finished cleaning up after you.”
“If every developer gets their way without significant changes to the State Planning laws to protect Live Music venues and culture in general we won’t have anything or anywhere to go to and we go to bed at 9pm.”
He said that the issue was emblematic of what was happening elsewhere across the city, and added that the increase in apartments was not conducive to tech startups that state and national politicians had been labelling as the saviour to Australia’s economic situation.
“The government wants to make Sydney a key player in the tech start up industry, it is young people that startup companies in the first place. It is also young people who want to live somewhere where you can go out at three o’clock in the morning.”
“If every developer gets their way we don’t have anything or anywhere to go to at 9pm.”
Democratic Liberal Party Senator, and Chairman of the ‘nanny state Inquiry’ David Leyonhjelm told City Hub that there was no need to place more rules on hostels following one single incident.
“Something does not need to be done every time there is some kind of incident. That way lies insanity,” he said.
“Backpackers in Australia are already amazed at the restrictions we place on personal freedoms. Having police turn up whenever someone opens a beer in a hostel courtyard will make us a laughing stock, and show international visitors that there is no place in Sydney where they are allowed to have a good time.”
City of Sydney Greens Councillor Irene Doutney, who supported Councillor Green’s motion last month, said the behaviour of backpackers could be because the lockout had restricted where people could drink.
“The Cross used to be a vibrant place, and now it doesn’t have that appeal, and they have to party where they can. Unregulated hostels are going to attract that partying thing,” Clr Doutney said.
Clr Doutney said that a plan of management could be a good way to try and curb the excesses of anti-social behaviour taking place.
She told City Hub that the tolerance in the suburb where she grew up as a child was long gone.
“That’s what I worry about, there is less and less tolerance. They still want that bohemian atmosphere, they want the artists and everything that went with it.”
“When I was a kid we used to wander the streets, and we were just allowed to wander till tea time. It has changed so much. There are so many rules and regulations now. If you want a little stall you need a permit and a license. It has cut creativity and ingenuity. Bad things happen, and you can’t make rules to stop bad things because that’s life.
Accidents, bad things, people misbehaving, you can’t rule out the realities of life.”