BY JOSH KINDL
The City of Sydney has awarded a number of Sydney businesses grants worth a total of $360,000.
Eighteen businesses will benefit from the grants, which have been awarded by The City in an effort to boost Sydney’s nightlife activity, as the controversial Lockout Laws continue to stymie inner-city trading.
Artist and manager of TAP Gallery in Surry Hills, Lesley Dimmick OAM, says the funding is welcome, but that measures will ultimately be ineffective, due to the corrosive nature of the NSW government’s Lockout Laws on city-based, small business trading.
“More money is all well and good, but it doesn’t change the fact that you can’t go and get a bloody drink in the city anymore,” she said.
“The government has a lot more to do with the destruction of music in Sydney than people realise today… they have killed the nightlife in this city.”
Of the eighteen businesses awarded a City of Sydney grant, six are bars or clubs; another six are live music or theatre venues; and two are retail spaces. The remaining four were undisclosed.
However, one of the venues receiving funding, East Sydney Community and Arts Centre, is owned by the City of Sydney, raising concerns that The City has, in effect, given itself a grant.
A spokesperson for the City of Sydney rebuked these concerns, stating that the grant selection process is a meritocracy.
“All grant applications are assessed on their merit against a set of clearly defined evaluation criteria and the City’s strategic priorities,” a spokesperson said.
“Applications are assessed by a panel of suitably qualified City staff – and in the case of the live music and performance grants, by a panel of experts from the industry with significant knowledge of issues relating to live music and performance venues,” they added.
Inner city small business owner Tula Tzoras took issue with The City’s decision.
“[The City of Sydney] does not need money,” she said.
These grants come as a boost to nightlife activity in Sydney, which has taken a substantial hit as a result of the knock-on effect of the city’s controversial Lockout Laws.
Since their implementation in early 2014, the Lockout Laws have put a strain on the ability of inner-city businesses to make a profit, particularly those that rely on after-midnight trading, such as clubs and dedicated live-music venues.
A spokesperson for Lord Mayor Clover Moore confirmed the negative effect of the state government’s Lockout Laws on Sydney’s small businesses and said these grants would be welcomed by small businesses as a positive step towards reclaiming the pre-lockout lustre of Sydney’s nightlife.
“The State Government’s lockout laws have had an enormous effect on Sydney’s night-time economy and as a result, we are taking practical steps to help businesses and venues get back on their feet,” the Lord Mayor’s spokesperson said.
“We need to do everything we can to encourage more diverse night-time activities and these grants are part of a comprehensive plan spanning from practical steps like creating drop off zones outside venues right through to the detailed work of policy review.”
Tyson Koh, campaign director for anti-Lockout Laws activist group Keep Sydney Open, agreed, saying that the state government is not doing its part to support small businesses that rely on late trading.
“Funding after-dark businesses encourages more vibrancy, but it’s only part of the solution. Venues and businesses that trade late are treated like criminals instead of assets to our city.
“This needs to change if we are to get our night-time mojo back,” Mr Koh said.
In the Callinan Review of Amendments to the Liquor Act 2007, released in 2016, Judge Ian Callinan observed that “musicians and other entertainers have been adversely affected by the laws”, citing a link between declining alcohol sales and cover charges and the closure of many notable city businesses.
These included prominent Kings Cross nightclub Soho, which had previously operated for 20 years, as well as The Exchange Hotel, GoodGod Small Club, and Hugo’s Lounge.
Mr Koh says that the lockout laws are as much a symbolic one as they are practical and play a major role in keeping people out of the city and taking money out of small business owners pockets.
“The lockout laws send a message to the public — that they are not wanted in the city at night,” he said.
Relief, however, may be on the cards, with the state government announcing a plan to relax the Lockout Laws, on a case-by-case basis, and extend both the lockout and last drinks cut-off times by 30 minutes.
So far, 27 businesses in the lockout zone have been granted the temporary exemption, with more to come as the government continues to assess cases.
Member for Bathurst, Paul Toole, also recently announced that the Lockout Laws were to be relaxed in celebration of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, with cut-off times set to also be extended by half an hour for the duration of the festivities.
However, Ms Dimmick says that measures such as these are tokenistic at best and that real change won’t be possible until the government rolls back the laws entirely.
“Only [for half an hour], that’s not extending the lockout laws.
“When I was much younger I used to drink until seven in the morning and then sleep all day. I should be free to be able to do that,” she said.
A spokesperson for the NSW State Government declined to comment.