BY JOHN MOYLE
In recent weeks there has been a lot of discussion across Sydney as to its viability as a Global City supporting a 24 hour day/night economy, but for all the good work and media friendly spin there is still an elephant looming over the debate and these are the lockout laws imposed on Kings Cross.
When the thug Kieran Loveridge king hit teenager Thomas Kelly in 2012, the death sentence was not only for a bright young life, it was also for a vibrant suburb that had long been a destination for people from all over the world.
A year later Daniel Christie was killed in similar circumstances and the fate of the entertainment precinct was also sealed, as police, emergency service providers and legislators acted swiftly and in unison to impose the most draconian licensing laws since the introduction of six o’clock closing during the First World War.
The lockout laws put into place in 2014 means that Kings Cross is now the most heavily regulated precinct in Australia, at the same time as its nightlife is being strangled of its vibrancy and diversity, forcing the bars, clubs and venues into a life and death struggle for survival.
Since the laws’ introduction around 20 Kings Cross venues and bar have closed and a number of spaces remain dark.
Current venue operators are working under some of the most onerous imposts ever imposed on the small business sector and struggle on in the hope that legislators will change the laws before the area dies.
Just last week a new nightclub was forced to close after two nights to review its compliance with the lockout laws or face fines that would have ensured its immediate closure.
“We’ve dealt with so many challenges to bars and venues with over-regulation that has forced them to go out of business, so I don’t think we have the balance right yet,” Alex Greenwich, independent MP, Sydney said.
Unlike the CBD or the rest of NSW, Kings Cross venue owners must operate under their own lockout laws that make for an unlevel playing field that in any other small business sectors would trigger a class action.
“They have to provide training, multi-plans of management, and while there are 21 different measures in the CBD, there are 36 different measures for Kings Cross,” John Green, Director, Liquor and Policing, Australian Hotels Association said.
“Apart from the Kings Cross and CBD 1.30am lockouts, there are 3am and 3.30am cease of services and the venues have to prepare information on their alcohol sales and these are the only locations in NSW that have to do that.”
“Kings Cross venues that are not prescribed high-risk venues need to report alcohol sales between 8pm and 5am, and lodge these on a quarterly basis,” Doug Grand, CEO and Coordinator, Kings Cross Licensing Accord Association said.
A high-risk venue is described as one that trades between 8pm and closing time and has a capacity above 120 people and they have to report alcohol sales on an hourly basis.
“There are financial imposts on preparing information for the units of alcohol and they say that there is no benefit to providing that information,” John Green said.
One of the lockout laws’ more contentious issues concerns the installation and manning of ID scanning machines which are a mandatory procedure for patrons entering bars or venues after 9pm.
“Kings Cross is the only precinct where identification scanning is mandated by legislation,” John Green said.
The cost of the $4,000 scanner is borne by the venue operator. The scanner must also be manned by a person who has completed a privacy compliance course.
“Then there are the wages for the person who has taken the course, which is around $35 per hour, so that equates to around $200 per night, or an extra $1,400 a week in wages,” Doug Grand said,
Ian Chandler is the owner of Prohibition, the nightclub that chose to suspend trading after being warned by police of their responsibilities and that the ensuring fines for not scanning anyone which can be as high as $11,000.
This includes patrons who have already been scanned in but for some reason have left the venue and are seeking readmission.
“With the ID scan you have to be photographed and carry a valid form of ID, so its like you are under arrest instead of entering a bar,” Ian Chandler, owner, Prohibition said.
The scanning laws also make it difficult for interstate or overseas patrons who may not have a valid form of ID or are simply unaware of the regulation.
“The noise restrictions are another major issues, as after midnight we have a zero decibel noise restrictions, so that the faintest noise coming from the venue opens us to a $6,000 fine, which is very easy to breach when opening doors,” Ian Chandler said.
“City of Sydney rangers recently dealt with one complaint over noise from Prohibition in Roslyn Street Kings Cross, and rangers spoke with venue management and no further action was required,” spokesperson, City of Sydney said.
The City of Sydney added “Venues who believe they have outdated or unnecessary consent conditions, making it difficult to put on live music, are encouraged to contact the City’s Strategic Advisor for Live Music and Performance to discuss whether there are changes that can be made or support to enable more live music and performance at their venue.”
John Wardle, from music industry lobby group Live Music Office, agreed that the City of Sydney is being proactive about their approach to noise.
“Providing a supportive and nurturing relationship with the venue operators would achieve better live music in Kings Cross,” John Wardle said.
Discussing the Kings Cross lockouts with Darcy Byrne, mayor of Inner West Council, which does not have lockouts, he said “ It has been a very heavy-handed approach and it has reinforced the perception among young people that politicians don’t listen to them, they just do things to them.”
The Cross will never go back to what was there before that fateful evening in 2012 but something has to give soon before a once vibrant night time economy goes under forever.
“Surely we’ve reached the stage that the Kings Cross clubs have achieved reform and that some of these conditions need to be relaxed,” John Green said.
Or perhaps the views of local resident lobby group 2011 Residents Association will hold sway when they state “ We are still fully supportive of the lockout laws and believe that they need to be maintained.”
Meanwhile, Prohibition nightclub is kicking against the prevailing situation and will reopen this week.