Observations on the NSW Lock out Laws.

Originally posted to facebook 18/06/2014
by S.R.Gyory - co-owner Record Store, Darlinghurst.

This is a fraught issue.

On a personal level, one of my staff was among 3 people that lost their full time jobs at a potts point bottle shop as a direct result of the 10pm closure.

Even more personally, in an international city like Sydney, I cannot now bring company home after a later dinner (and let’s face it, there are plenty of those to be had around town) and pick up a bottle. Not very civilised.

Working in music, I hear from a lot of venues. DJs have lost work, sales are down. Punters are moving out to Redfern and Bondi Junction etc, which, perhaps, should always have always been the case. But how will this be managed? Will new clusters form? Will residents complain?

But this is not to deny that there was a problem. The community, across the board, in KX and OxSt were saying for years that something needed to be done about the free-for-all that was happening on the streets.

You could point the finger at a few venues, but collectively, for the most part, they were all behaving and it was the clustering and lack of clear responsibility for on-street behaviours that created the mêlée. Not to mention the moronic bogan culture that somehow developed and went left unchecked for years – even though many locals for many years had been begging someone to take action. I mean, even after the first death, You had the City and the State and the Police all sitting there shrugging going, it’s not our responsibility. Well yeah, duh, technically, legally it was no one's, and look what happened from that shirking

For whatever reason, and the more suspicious among us believe that the three ‘zones’ singled out were, for years, used as part of a containment strategy, in that clustering was a strategy being used to try and keep the noise and people in a few areas and save the rest of the city from nightlife. Set and forget kind of deal. You could say this has succeeded because it was inevitable that the shit hit the fan, and now the wowsers and prohibitionists have been able to move their agenda forward, at the expense of the more liberal minded sectors of society.

Whatever your view, it was allowed to get out of hand, and it took some tragic deaths for the government to take notice and they have responded with a knee-jerk collective punishment.

While this may have started achieving the aims of reducing anti-social behaviour, it cannot be seen as a success because it is harming the livelihoods of a great many people that were in no way responsible for the trouble in the first place. It is also harming Sydney late night culture. And making Sydney look like a hick backwater town.(Welcome to Sydney – Closed’ signs, anyone – I mean, this city has no freaking sense of aesthetics or style, it’s like Surfers compared to Melbourne, and what little bits of cooler nightlife were starting to flower have been caught up in the drag-net)

The broad brush approach is killing small businesses in particular. Like Bar Triple Ace on the corner of Campbell and Elizabeth Streets, that was way out of the danger zone and was, in fact, the venue for early AM international soccer match viewing by diehard fans, a social event that this venue has had to cancel.

Or the smaller underground dance clubs not in saturated areas but still in the lock out zones that have been caught up in this. A couple that I know were actually set up out of the way to keep the punters safe from the bogans. Set up in other Sydney areas so that lovers of dance music could dance the night away in small, intimate clubs off the beaten track. I won’t mention names, but there are definitely two that are international destinations for international Djs and producers which are being harshly affected.

Small cookies you might think, until you realise that UK based Mixmag, the world’s leading Dj magazine, featured our lockouts on the covers 2 weeks ago.

So, again, while the broad brush collective punishment may be achieving goals, it is making us look like ham-fisted fools on the world stage. Like a city that cannot control its teenagers and so we have to punish everyone.

Basically, the people claiming that the lock-outs are a success, while technically correct, ignore the fact that other sectors of the community are being negatively affected. This is not fair or right. There has to be a more sophisticated, fine-grain approach. This might be hard for the NSW govt to comprehend, but as the City has just acknowledged with its EcDev strategy, one size fits all policy and action is lazy and harmful to the economy.

Another sector of the community that has been massively affected are the hospitality workers, arguably the face of Sydney’s night life, these people used to go out after work finished, to the few places that stayed open very late. These workers have now had their social lives completely disrupted.

Parochial? Well, the thing mostly being affected by the antisocial behaviour, were people’s social lives. So we have here a case where the well-being of one segment of the community is being catered for at the expense of another. Not very fair. Not very enlightened.

What needs to happen now that the surge of idiots has been repelled, is that government needs, very quickly, to start going into much finer detail.

Clubs that host world class Djs like Civic, Good God and Spice Cellar, which are off the beaten path and are not in the stupidity hotspots, should be allowed to trade to 5am. Dance music is a global culture, and all night dance clubs are part of that – this is why most Australian DJs and producers relocate to Berlin and London.

It might seem like small fry, but in a city trying to be one of the great international cities, it is, once again, fine grain culture like this that is needed.

All it is going to take is for someone famous to come here, have a shit gig and end up on Jimmy Fallon lambasting parochial Sydney and ALL THE WORK Destination NSW is doing on the non-Chinese boom front, will be undone.

Perception is key.

Let’s be honest here George Street was the killer, the whole length was a disaster and even I was afraid to be there of a weekend after 10pm. Oxford Street was only rowdy from Tsq to WhitSq and KX was 150 meters.

These areas should have been and should be the focus of intense police presence on the streets. Not inside harassing patrons, but outside throwing drunk buffoons in the drunk tank overnight.

Barcelona did it right. When Plaza Real off La Ramblas became a hotbed of drug dealing and violence they did not shut down the old quarter, they moved a mobile police station into the plaza and left it there – problem solved.

Look, I could go on forever. But what needs to happen now is simple. We can’t change what happened but we can now start tailoring these laws in a more sophisticated, one-on-one way.

We must be careful not to alienate the people who supported the lock-out by being seen to be ‘watering down the laws’ but we must start looking at individual venues, understanding their needs and clientele and allowing them to service their patrons.

Not every venue needs to be open til 5am, not every street had lunatics spewing it in. I can’t emphasise enough that it is fine grain details, once again, that must be considered. It’s like the lockout laws were a giant black featureless block that got dropped on Sydney from a great height. Now we need to start whittling away at it like master sculptors.

We need to chip away the right bits and leave the right bits so we end up with a far more sophisticated piece of legislation that recognises the perils of late night culture as well as its importance.

Hard work yes, but necessary because to be seen as being sophisticated, we actually have to be sophisticated.

Stephan Győry

President DBP