All roads to Kings Cross closed for fun due to lock out laws. Photo:Wikimedia Commons

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by Erika Echternach

Of course it’s always great to get free drinks, but it’s less thrilling when those free drinks are from the venue’s owner in an attempt to entice you to invite more of your friends to fill his empty club, as was the case the last time I went out in Sydney.

While in 2017 Melbourne earned the title of “World’s Most Livable City,” for the seventh time in a row” while Sydney came 11th  and the annual turnover among businesses on Oxford Street dropped by nearly a third, according to a survey of about 200 venues. With late-night business dropping at an alarming rate, the question has become whether Sydney will decide to wake up or hit the snooze.

The majority of this decline in nightlife is attributable to Sydney’s lockout laws instituted in 2014. Although intended to curb crime, the regulations have simply pushed crime to outer suburbs such as Newtown, Bondi, Coogee and Double Bay, which reported an increase of 16.7 per cent of non-domestic assaults since the lockout laws began.

In addition, the laws have virtually killed Sydney’s nightlife scene along with the businesses that once supplied the late night entertainment.

Meanwhile, Melbourne has been enjoying a surplus of nighttime activity as a 24-hour city with small bars and restaurants open way past Sydney’s bedtime and providing over 10,000 jobs in the night-time economy, according to statistics from the City of Melbourne.

Experiencing Melbourne’s nightlife after living in Sydney for a while can be a bit of a culture shock. If you go out before midnight in Melbourne expecting people to be hitting the clubs as they typically are in Sydney, you might be surprised to find that most do not even arrive until around 1 am.

Melbourne’s 24-hour venues will certainly be a foreign concept to Sydneysiders. Places like the Revolver do not close their doors from Thursday to Monday morning, something that takes a little getting used to after coming from a city that shuts down after 3 am.

But it is mainly visitors to Sydney, particularly from Europe, who need the most time to adapt to a new nighttime routine. This is because many are used to staying out until 6 am or later, and have never heard of clubs closing between 2-3 am before.

Originally from Germany, Mila, has been travelling Australia and found that Melbourne offers more of a variety for those seeking late-night entertainment even on weeknights.

“The variety of rooftop bars, pubs and clubs was amazing in Melbourne,” Mila said. “I think you can definitely go out over the week.”

As a long term visitor to Sydney myself, it did not take long before I encountered the words “lockout laws”in everyday conversation. It was a mysterious phrase at first, but I soon came to realise that the laws are a defining feature of the city — and a crippling one at that.

Sydney’s suffering night-time economy may be a key contributor to the city’s rapid loss of citizens. Recent census numbers show that while NSW has lost 35,600 people over the past 3 years, Victoria has gained 45,300.

In the words of technology entrepreneur Matt Barrie’s viral rant: “Sydney, once the best city in the world, has become an international joke. No wonder everyone’s apparently moving to Melbourne.”

Ironically, Melbourne was one of the very first Australian cities to trial lockout laws in 2008, but the city did away with them just three months after they were initiated.

Melbourne abandoned the lockout laws after the laws failed to subdue excess violence and were opposed by protest crowds of over 10,000 calling for the government to take action against the laws.

Similar movements have taken place across Sydney, but the government has yet to respond to the people’s cries.

However, striking a desirable balance between nightlife and controlling crime is not impossible. Other major cities around the world such as Amsterdam and London have found alternative ways to decrease crime, whilst still maintaining a thriving nightlife.

London’s West End’s alcohol-related violence and theft has fallen by 27 per cent in recent years due to a new police project geared specifically toward working with the local pub, club and business owners, according to a statement by Inspector Matt Butterworth of the London Metropolitan Police.

The grassroots movement Keep Sydney Open (KSO) has been gaining more momentum,  when last month it became an official political party to contest the upcoming senate election.

In celebration of the party’s registration, KSO threw a launch party at King’s Cross Hotel, demonstrating that although forced to remain subdued these past four years, Sydney is still poised to party.

The vibrant KSO party indicated that Sydneysiders have plenty of party left in them and there is still a chance to salvage Sydney’s struggling nightlife, but it’s getting late in the game  and Sydney has to choose whether it’s up or to play on.