Are Sydney’s ‘lockout laws’ effective?
It’s been more than two years since the controversial Sydney lockout laws were introduced. Just how effective were they in curbing alcohol-fuelled violence in the city? Some recent news reports shed some light.
Sydney lockout laws were introduced in early 2014 following a spate of alcohol-related assaults and fatal one-punch attacks, which drew a large amount of media attention and brought to light the serious problem of alcohol-fuelled violence in the city. The lockout laws cover the Sydney CBD entertainment precinct, which stretches from parts of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst to The Rocks, and from Kings Cross to Cockle Bay.
The Sydney lockout laws include:
- Lock outs and last drinks: 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks at hotels, registered clubs, nightclubs and licenced karaoke bars. Small bars (maximum 60 people), most restaurants and tourist accommodation establishments are exempt.
- Temporary bans: of 48 hours for troublemakers.
- Takeaway alcohol sales: stop at 10pm for bottle shops, hotels and clubs. This law is NSW-wide.
- Liquor licenses: two-year freeze on approvals for new and existing licenses.
- Revoking of Competency cards and disqualifications: (up to 12 months) for bar staff breaching responsible service of alcohol requirements.
- Licensee fines: of up to $11,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 12 months for failure to comply with the new laws.
Those amendments were (and still are) fiercely contested with passionate support and opposition from many parties. Sydney DJs and business owners raised significant concerns following the announcement as the Sydney lockout laws could hurt their business’s financial viability. Since then, many more business owners have claimed that the lockout laws caused them to shut down.
Many question whether the Sydney lockout laws are actually effective in reducing violence in the city. Recently published reviews on the matter provide contrasting results.
Sydney Lockout High Court Review
One independent review by former High Court Justice Ian Callinan recognises the Sydney lockout laws have made Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD safer, but proposes that the laws be relaxed.
The review included more than 1,800 submissions and almost 30 stakeholder sessions, including three roundtables into Sydney’s night-time economy.
Among Mr Callinans proposed changes are:
- Relax the 1.30am lockout and 3am last drinks measures for live entertainment venues to a 2am lockout and 3.30am last drinks for a two-year trial period.
- Extend the state-wide sale of takeaway alcohol from 10pm to 11pm.
- Extend the home delivery of alcohol from 10pm to midnight.
The NSW Government will now consider the report and deliver its response before the end of the year.
Report by Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR)
Based on the statistics available at the time, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) report in April this year concluded that the increase in domestic assaults recorded at The Star had increased since the lockouts were introduced, but that “in absolute terms, the increase was fairly small; slightly less than two additional assaults per month”.
Report by Keep Sydney Open (KSO)
However, another analysis done by two qualified economists and a mathematics for the Keep Sydney Open (KSO) movement, challenges those findings. The report highlighted flaws from the previous reports by Judge Callinan and BOSCAR, which relied heavily on data from St Vincent Hospital and NSW crime statistics.
Previous assertions that “no significant increase in violence has been seen around casino” are based on questionable statistical methods.
The report provides the following key findings:
- Alcohol-fuelled violence has intensified in Kings Cross.
- Violence from Kings Cross and the CBD has been displaced to alternative entertainment precincts, particularly towards the Star Casino.
- Alcohol-fuelled assaults are 30% higher across Newtown, Bondi, Double Bay and Coogee, 6% higher in the CBD and surrounding suburbs, and 9% higher across Sydney overall compared to if the liquor reforms had not been implemented.
- In Pyrmont, alcohol-fuelled violence is more than twice as high (121%) than if the reforms had not been implemented, driven by assaults in and around Star Casino. As a result, violence in the precinct is now on par with Kings Cross making it Sydney’s new assault hot spot.
- Data from St Vincent’s Hospital shows that the number of alcohol-related traumas during the lockout period has only reduced by 34 cases over a 12 month period or 2.8 per month.
- The cost of alcohol misuse on society is cited as a key justification for the lockouts, however when around 20% of alcohol consumed in Australia is on licensed premises – 80% at home – there relevance of supply side interventions targeting licenced premises is questionable.
Under-reporting by Star Casino
More recently, it has been revealed that The Star Casino has been grossly under-reporting violence in the venue since the introduction of the lockout laws.
The ABC reported that documents leaked from the NSW Liquor & Gaming regulator revealed that The Star had failed to report 75 of 111 violent incidents in a period of six months, while 75 per cent of assaults were not included in a monthly report to casino executives, which is also passed on to the New South Wales Government.
The latest revelations appear to have completely undermined the statistics-backed view that the lockout laws have curbed violence at all, and Dr Don Weatherburn, director at the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistic and Research, says that based on new leaked documents, “We will have perhaps seriously underestimated the displacement to The Star casino.”
There will be a fresh investigation into Sydney’s controversial lockout laws following this revelation. For now, we can only wait to see what will happen next.