The iconic Kings Cross Hotel thriving despite lock-outs. Photo: Solotel Group

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by John Moyle

Bad news keeps coming for pubs and clubs in the CBD and King Cross as Glad the Impaler’s government makes it clear that there will be no changes to the lock-out laws until after the state election on 20 March 2019.

This news comes at the completion of the review into liquor regulations that started with a glimmer of hope due to a sunset clause in the legislation.

“In most cases regulations are automatically set to be repealed after five years,” Doug Grand, chief executive officer, Kings Cross Licensing Accord said.

The Regulatory Impact Statement for Liquor Regulation 2018 states “Section 10 provides for subordinate legislation to sunset after a set period of time. In most cases, regulations are automatically repealed after five years (or for a longer period of time where this has been approved). The Liquor Regulation 2008 is due for automatic repeal on 1 September 2018”.

According to the government’s own legislation, the lock-out laws that were introduced in February 2014 should have been history last week.

“A removal of the lock-out laws would be a huge win for Sydney,” said Justine Baker, chief executive officer for the Solotel group, whose pub portfolio includes the iconic Kings Cross Hotel.

Instead, the draconian actions of a government that has continually refused to address an issue of its own making will impact on the night-time economy and drinkers in Kings Cross and the CBD with its enforced ID scanning after 9pm, heavy operational regulations for venues and 1.30am lock-outs and 3am last drinks.

The government also increased maximum prison sentences and new mandatory minimum sentences for drug-fuelled violence.

Mr Grand said “Kings Cross still remains the worst affected area but for some years now the assault rate is at an all-time low, and there are no clubs or pubs on the violent venue list at the moment”.

The violent venue list is for venues that have recorded assaults over a 12 month period, the pub will stay on the list until it is reviewed every six months.

ID scanning after 9pm is an expensive impost for all licensed venues that includes the cost of the scanner, the wages of a dedicated operator and the camera surveillance associated with its operation.

“What we do know is that ID scanning was not adjusted in line with the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics stats that show ever decreasing assault rates, but what we do know is that the Lock-Out will not be reviewed until after the state election,” Doug Grand said.

“Waiting another six months is only going to see more clubs close.”

In its submission the Kings Cross Liquor Accord acknowledges that the area has changed irrevocably, stating “The historic nature of the entertainment precinct is continually changing towards a balance between commercial business and residential development.

“In fact, of the 35 late night high risk category venues listed by NSW Liquor and Gaming for the precinct, 20 of the venues have closed with visitation to the area reducing significantly, also the previous patron capacity has been reduced by over 50 per cent, or over 5,000 patrons.”

“The lock-outs provided a useful circuit breaker to alcohol associated violence in inner city hot spots but they are not sustainable and have already caused significant damage to the night-time economy,” Alex Greenwich, independent Member for Sydney said.

“There are now fewer opportunities for musos and entertainers, and the business and consumer confidence in Sydney as an after-dark attraction continues to suffer.”

The World Bar is one of the few pre lock-out venues still standing in the Cross, and has survived due to its creative approach in re-purposing its spaces to include theatre, and its ability to attract a diverse clientele across its operating times.

Owner Steve Ward was more vocal than many operators when he said “The lock-outs were put into solve a problem but now they are a cruel and unusual punishment”.
“I don’t think the state government is listening, or they are concerned about voter backlash, but in the meantime the industry continues to hurt.”
Meanwhile the Lord Mayor Clover Moore has called for the government to wind back the laws in the City of Sydney’s submission to the Liquor and Gaming review.

“The lock-outs come at the expense of Sydney’s global reputation, tourism and hospitality industry,” the Lord Mayor said in a press release.

The Lord Mayor went on to state new incentives that included the installation of a night-time panel, the removal of the 1.30am lock-out for well managed venues and the streamlining of development and liquor license applications.

While applauding the sentiments Doug Grand said “The City of Sydney can’t do very much about this at all.”

After years of submissions and a willingness to adapt and bear the financial and operational costs of the lock-outs the venues seem to be getting crumbs when they need a total repeal.

“There is a religious overtone to everything, it’s like a temperance movement, a dangerous combination of conservatives, baby boomers and a sprinkling of religion that doesn’t help,” Steve Ward said.