The NSW government’s package of liquor regulation has met with strong criticism from operators, drinkers and freedom advocates.
Premier Barry O’Farrell announced on Tuesday that 1.30am lockouts and 3am “last drinks” will be imposed on most venues in Sydney’s CBD. In a statewide crackdown, bottle shops will also be forced to close at 10pm.
In addition, mandatory minimum sentences of eight years will apply for anyone convicted of a one-punch assault occasioning death. The maximum penalty will be 20 years, but will be extended to 25 years where drugs or alcohol are involved.
The licensing restrictions will be imposed across an expanded Sydney precinct that takes in most of the CBD, Kings Cross and Oxford Street. Barangaroo and the Star casino are not included in the zone.
The conditions are similar to the so-called “Newcastle solution” which has been heralded as reducing violent incidents in the northern city.
Announcing the suite of measures on Tuesday, the premier said a recent spate of alcohol-related violence required a “concerted effort by government and its agencies, by the alcohol industry and by the community”. He said the package announced this week would “make the difference and start the change”.
“We’re sending a message today that misuse and abuse of alcohol and drugs are going to be less tolerated,” Mr O’Farrell said.
The premier said small bars and restaurants would be exempt from lockouts and last-drinks restrictions. But only a handful of bars are classed under the government’s new “small bar” licence for venues with a capacity of less than 60 patrons. Most smaller bars, which have capacity of up to 120, come under the regular bar licence.
“This is not about penalising responsible drinkers,” Mr O’Farrell said.
But the announcement sparked a barrage of resistance from patrons, musicians and operators who felt they were being penalised.
“Limiting choice for everyone is an absurd reaction. We don’t do it in any other field,” said Dan Nolan, a developer and entrepreneur who patronises venues in the CBD and Surry Hills.
“Internationally it makes us a joke. The only other city that does something similar is San Francisco and it is widely reviled for it.”
Henry Ho, licensee at Charlie Chan’s Bar on George Street, said the changes would have a huge impact, particularly on tourism.
“We close at 6am. Our peak hours are from 3 o’clock onwards. What will they do? Drink water?” he asked. “Sydney will become like a country town.”
Stephan Gyory of the 2010 Business Partnership said the laws would punish the wrong people.
“It’s the bozos doing it, not the venues,” he told City News. “It’s a collective punishment for everyone, not just the nutcases.”
Incoming Freedom Commissioner Tim Wilson condemned the policy as disappointing.
“Stopping street violence is not achieved through arbitrary restrictions on the individual liberty of law-abiding citizens in the hope that it may reduce criminal behaviour amongst a small number of individuals,” he said.
Mr Wilson noted that non-domestic assaults in Kings Cross are not rising, and said the lockout policy had previously failed in Victoria.
Mr O’Farrell will also increase penalties for offences such as using “offensive language” ($500) and supplying illegal steroids (up to 25 years imprisonment).
Paul Gregoire contributed reporting