Sydney’s lockout laws, imposed by the NSW Government in February 2014, have had a devastating effect on the city’s nighttime economy. Numerous venues have closed down, while foot traffic in Kings Cross and Oxford Street has dropped by up to 80 per cent, according to the City of Sydney’s Late Night Management Areas Research Phase 4 Report, published in September 2015. The laws, which apply to venues of 60+ capacity in Kings Cross and sections of the CBD, prohibit entry after 1.30am and ban drink sales after 3am.
With the laws about to come under review, debate is raging across social media. Matt Barrie, chief executive at Freelancer.com, posted a scathing criticism on LinkedIn, in which he wrote, “The total and utter destruction of Sydney’s nightlife is almost complete.” Titled “Would the last person in Sydney please turn the lights out?”, the piece went viral, attracting nearly one million views. Mike Baird, New South Wales premier, responded via Facebook, describing public discontent as “a growing hysteria” and stating “alcohol related assaults have decreased by 42.2 per cent in the CBD since we introduced the ‘lock-out laws’”.
Meanwhile, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Queensland premier, is urging her government to pass similar laws, statewide. Being debated in parliament this week, the laws would prohibit the sale of shots after 12am and ban drink sales after 2am. On 14 February, Lawrence Springborg, opposition leader, said, “If this government can explain to us why the casino … is exempt from these laws or the strip club next door, then we would look at those sorts of things … Under their plan they’re going to close the pubs and funnel people into [the casino] – why is this the case?”
Given live music’s dependence on a vibrant night-time economy, the extant and proposed legislative changes threaten the scene in both states. Musicians and music industry figures are rallying, not only to oppose the laws and draw attention to their detrimental impact, but also to consider what measures might be taken to protect venues and musicians.
Musicians speaking out
On February 10, Flight Facilities, an internationally successful electronica duo from Sydney made up of Hugo Gruzman and James Lyell, posted their concerns on their Facebook page. They pointed out that the city’s “diversity in nightlife allowed [them] to succeed”, with many of their “first club gigs” not even starting till 3am. Seven music venues pivotal to the duo’s formation, including Hugo’s, Soho, Tank Room and the Piano Room (where they met Giselle, who sings on their hit, “Crave You”), have closed down. Gruzman and Lyell wrote, “Had these laws been in effect 10 years earlier, our music may never have existed.”
On the same day, Isabella Manfredi, front woman of The Preatures, a well-known rock band, also from Sydney, posted an anecdote on their Facebook page, recounting a late-night walk during which she and guitarist Jack Moffitt were unable to find a spot for a “quiet nightcap and chat”. She wrote, “Where Mike Baird talks about anecdotal evidence of safer streets and a more vibrant city, I see eerily empty streets and slim choices. I don’t need to be moralised for wanting my city to feel ALIVE.”
And Art Vs Science, a popular dance trio, have recorded a song about their frustration. It’s titled “You Got To Stop” and the lyrics of the closing verse read, “Lock us out, lock us in and lock us down/ Turn this wild city to a sleepy little town/ Misguided rains you’re pouring heavy from above/ But you can’t contain the flames of the fire that we love.” The trio informed Baird about the song via an open note, posted on Facebook.
Industry bodies lobbying
While musicians are speaking out, music industry bodies are lobbying. In addition to putting pressure on the NSW Government to repeal the lockout laws and on Queensland’s MPs to vote against them, they’re fighting for amendments to protect live music venues.
Since February 2014 – when the laws were proposed – the music industry has voiced its concerns through a group known as the Late Night Culture Alliance. Founding members include MusicNSW, SLAM, FBi Radio, GoodGod Small Club, Oxford Art Factory, theMusic.com.au/The Music, inthemix and The Music Network. Their campaign, Keep Sydney Open, now has more than 32,000 followers on Facebook, and has inspired the support of Tina Arena, the Bondi Hipsters and St Jeromes Laneway Festival, among others.
At the 2015 Electronic Music Conference, held in Sydney, a panel discussion was dedicated to the lockout laws. According to Michael Koziol, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, speakers agreed that, up until recently, the music industry “had not been as organised or effective as other cities in working with government to resist further regulation”. Panelist John Wardle, policy director of the Live Music Office, said, pointed out that, even if reversing the lockouts isn’t possible, it’s important that live music venues, like The Basement and The Oxford Art Factory, which contribute to Sydney’s cultural life, should be protected and “rewarded”.
The lockout laws review, to be headed by Ian Callinan QC, a former high court judge, will issue a call for formal submissions soon. In the meantime, feedback can be emailed to [email protected]