Tyson Koh, campaign manager of Keep Sydney Open is pushing for lockout laws to be relaxed more permanently. Photo: supplied by Tyson Koh.

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To mark the 40th anniversary of Mardi Gras on the evening of Saturday March 3rd, State Premier Gladys Berejiklian has agreed to relax lockout laws along Oxford Street.

Councillor Christine Forster was instrumental in seeing the lockout laws relaxed and believes that reducing lockout will have an enormous positive impact on the community.

“I wrote to the Premier several weeks ago suggesting that relaxing the lockouts for this important occasion would be a special gesture of goodwill for the LGBTQI community, many members of which still hold raw memories of the terrible events which surrounded the first Mardi Gras in 1978,” Councillor Forster said.

“Confirmation that the government has agreed to the exemption is particularly moving, given the community is celebrating the historic passing of Australia’s same-sex marriage legislation on 7 December 2017,” Cr Forster added.

The annual Mardi Gras event shines a light on the issues affecting LGBTQI people around the world and allows the community to celebrate at one of Sydney’s most popular events. The parade generates over $40 million for the local economy and over 300,000 people attend each year. This year’s event will showcase over 200 exciting groups featuring fabulous floats and outrageous costumes.

Taylor Cruz is one of the hundreds of thousands of people who will be participating in this year’s Mardi Gras celebrations. He is very happy that lockout will be relaxed.

“Now people can enter freely into clubs and bars all night, which I think is great,” he said. “We have a lot of international tourists in Australia for Mardi Gras and we have to show our best light for Australia’s global city. If they hadn’t relaxed lockout they would be restricting the nightlife and that means restricting the social life of a gay person.”

Tyson Koh, the campaign manager of Keep Sydney Open, a group that is fighting against lockout laws, agreed with this idea. “The Mardi Gras is an event that helps define Sydney and it attracts visitors from all over the world,” he said. “Having lockouts on one of the city’s most joyous occasions has left those visitors with a bad impression on Sydney and it affects our international reputation.”

“Allowing folks more freedom to enter venues is not only good for business, but it’s safer as people are kept off the streets. It means one can choose when to call it a night instead of having to go home at the same time and fighting over cabs. The State Government has acknowledged this with regards to New Year’s Eve celebrations,” Koh added.

City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, welcomed the Government’s decision to relax lockout laws on 3rd March with open arms. A spokesperson for Lord Mayor Clover Moore said, “The Lord Mayor has been calling for the lockout laws to be relaxed for Mardi Gras since they were first imposed. The Lord Mayor and Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich MP, have written multiple letters asking the Premier to relax the laws over the years without success.”

Since the lockout laws were introduced, Sydney’s nightlife has gone down and this means there has been a substantial impact on all businesses in the area.

“The NSW Government’s lockout laws were a sledgehammer blow to Sydney’s nightlife and have had an enormous effect on Sydney’s night-time economy,” a spokesperson for Cr Moore said, “and as a result, the City of Sydney is taking practical steps to help businesses and venues get back on their feet.

“For the businesses that trade into the night, there is no question that lockout should be extended,” Koh said. “Keep Sydney Open had a float in last year’s parade and an after party on Oxford Street. I was shocked at how quiet the area was after midnight. Relaxing the lockout will encourage people to stay in the area and businesses will benefit from that.”

Many hope that the relaxation of the lockout laws on Mardi Gras will prove beneficial to the nightlife of Sydney and that there may be a possibility of winding back lockout laws on a larger scale. “Relaxing the lockouts could hopefully lead to a broader lifting of the laws which will encourage a more vibrant queer culture in the inner-city once more,” Koh said.

“It was obvious four years ago that some sort of circuit breaker was required to end the cycle of alcohol-fuelled street violence,” Councillor Forster said, “particularly in Kings Cross. These laws have now served their purpose, however, and it may be possible that they can safely be wound back.
“I think the exemptions announced today could serve as a useful trial, providing evidence as to whether consideration can be given to the relaxation of the 1:30am lockout more broadly.”

This Mardi Gras Sydney’s gay community will be able to party into the wee hours. Many hope that relaxing the lockout laws on Oxford Street for Mardi Gras will create a safer and more vibrant city and will demonstrate that lockout laws should be relaxed along the City’s gay strip the other 364 days of the year.