BY JOHN MOYLE
This week will see the last glimmer of hope for the Kings Cross and CBD lock-out laws before Glad the Impaler’s government is swept away in the state election on March 23rd 2019.
A bill is being proposed from an unlikely source, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party’s MLC Robert Borsak, who intends to table it in the NSW Upper House this Thursday.
Mr Borsak’s bill comes as a response to Nationals Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s recent call to repeal the lock-outs in the CBD in response to the damage being done by the light rail construction and downturn of the night time economy.
Notice of the Liquor Legislation Amendment (Repeal of Lock-Out Laws) Bill 2018 is calling for an end to the 1.30am lock-outs across the CBD, and importantly for the first time since the regulations’ introduction in 2014, will include Kings Cross in the abolition.
“With this and the light rail it is creating a mess for small business, and as politics is all about policy this is an opportunity to force the Government to do something,” Mr Borsak, said.
“We are talking about the whole of Sydney, and the Cross has to be in it.”
“The Greens will always oppose the CBD and Kings Cross lock-outs and that position holds,” said Jenny Leong, MP Greens, Newtown.
“While I haven’t seen this bill if it simply allows people to go out and dance all night then that would be something the Greens would support.”
Ralph Kelly, the father of one-punch victim Thomas Kelly, told 2GB that the lock-outs still need to be in place and the city can’t afford to have them wound back.
The latest Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures show that over the past 12 months there were 445 reports of assault in the CBD, while reports in Kings Cross were down to 30 from a high of 174.
“The lock-outs have never been effective in the CBD and the assaults at Star have never been included,” said the CEO of the Kings Cross Licensing Accord Association, Doug Grand.
“The Government’s reasoning for the lock-outs is contradictory,” Mr Borsak said.
“They claim that it is a crack down on violence and criminals in licensed premises, yet the Star has been exempted even though it has a reputation for attracting its fair share of criminals.”
As Jenny Leong points out the reduction in assaults can also be attributed to the Light Rail construction works reducing numbers in the CBD.
“If you look at the City of Sydney reports about pedestrian foot traffic [being] down by 80 to 90 per cent then you reduce violence by 80 to 90 per cent, but you can’t stop people going out in certain areas, you [also] need to reduce the violent behaviour,” she said.
The past five years has seen the night time economy of Kings Cross decimated as the lock-outs impact on clubs and ancillary businesses, reducing foot traffic to a trickle at night and creating empty shops along the southern part of Darlinghurst Road.
“No other international city of similar standing to Sydney has such a law striking at the heart of its nightlife,” Mr Borsak said.
“I’ve lost count of the number of small business owners, residents and young people who have contacted my office to register their anger at this situation.”
Owner of World Bar, Steve Ward, who is on the front line trying to keep his Kings Cross venue open, lamented the damage being done to the valuable brand that is Kings Cross.
“There’s an eco-system in Kings Cross that has been absolutely wiped out,” Mr Ward said.
“I think that Kings Cross has a huge amount of historical goodwill, and a lot of international cities treat that goodwill as an asset and work to enhance it and deal with the problems in a positive and creative way.”
Jenny Leong said “I don’t think the Government understands the needs of the community, they are so out of touch.”
“Berijiklian says that government should get out of people’s lives and what we are seeing is a government addicted to bans and lock-outs,” Mr Borsak said.
“In other words, if you are a small business you are not worth a bumper but if you are a large business like the Star and you pay the right people you get what you need.”
Another thorn in the government’s side might come if hotelier and night club operator Ian Chandler’s class action against the government gains traction.
Claiming that it could be the largest class action in Australia, Mr Chandler predicted it could be as high as $2 billion, citing just one hotelier’s claim that their premises had dropped $20 million in value.
“The government has said that they will reconsider the lock-out laws without Kings Cross after the election, but I think they are saying that for convenience,” Mr Borsak said.
“If we can get some positive trading conditions in the Cross we will also see new entrants to the market immediately,” Steve Ward said.
NSW Labor and Opposition Leader Luke Foley were approached for comment on this story but declined.