On Saturday 7 July 2012, Thomas Kelly, an 18 year old male was walking down Victoria Street in Kings Cross, where he was punched from behind (“coward punch”). Thomas was admitted to hospital where he fought for his life for two days to no avail.
On Tuesday 31 December 2013, Daniel Christie, an 18 year old male was also the victim of a coward punch. Daniel was admitted to hospital and passed away after 11 days.
Sydney lockout laws to curb alcohol-fuelled violence
In February 2014, the Sydney lockout laws were introduced with the objective of reducing these tragic alcohol fuelled violent attacks. The changes included:
- 1:30am lockouts
- 3:00am last drinks at bars, pubs and clubs in the Sydney CBD entertainment precinct (Kings Cross – where both Daniel Christie and Thomas Kelly were attacked), Darlinghurst, Cockle Bay, The Rocks, Haymarket and part of Surry Hills).
The NSW Government also increased maximum prison sentences and introduced new mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment for certain crimes, particularly coward punches.
The sweeping effects of the “draconian” laws
From February 2014 to the present day, we have seen businesses shut down in the targeted areas and businesses flourish in neighbouring suburbs. We have seen NSW residents move to other states. We have seen the effect these laws have had on crime and its overall impact on the economy. As aptly stated by Premier Gladys Berejiklian:
“safety and a vibrant night-time economy are not mutually exclusive”.
In September 2015, thousands of people marched from Hyde Park to Kings Cross to protest against the state government’s “draconian” lockout laws.
In August 2019, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics & Research issued Paper no.142 which examined the effect of the lockout laws. It is clear that these laws have indeed been effective in reducing crime in Kings Cross as per the table below:
Essentially, the report found statistically significant reductions in the number of non-domestic assaults in the Kings Cross Precinct (down 45.1%) and Sydney CBD Entertainment Precinct (down 20.3%).
Whilst some argue that the lockout laws improved community safety and reduced alcohol-related violence, there are others who argue that these laws have adversely affected the vast majority of Australians who drink responsibly, and the economy as a whole.
In May 2019, a joint select committee was established to inquire into and report on Sydney’s night time economy. In September 2019, the committee issued their Final Report which essentially found that, in addition to violence dropping, so did the City’s vibrancy and the number of people engaging responsibly in the night time economy.
The committee noted that submission makers described Sydney as “soulless, boring, a ghost town and a shadow of its former self”, arguing that the laws “place a frustrating amount of control over what people can and cannot do, and that the city no longer accommodates different groups of people.”
The report made the following recommendations:
- Venues should engage with the private-sector to promote community safety programs;
- Venues should self-report breaches;
- We need improved notification processes of any breaches;
- There should be co-ordinated venue inspections
- The Kings Cross precinct should have improved lighting and streetscapes;
- The Kings Cross precinct should have a ‘good neighbor policy’ to deal with noise complaints;
- We should support our cultural institutions to provide more late night offerings;
- We should encourage more venues for music and creative events;
- We should find more innovative ways to use vacant and occupied spaces;
- We should make small bars a more attractive licensed venue business model;
- We should have rewards for good behaviour and ongoing compliance;
- We should reintroduce the 2014 lockout laws for venues consistently in breach of relevant requirements, if deemed necessary by the authorities;
- Regarding public transport, the Committee recommends that Transport for NSW investigate providing secure taxi ranks in Kings Cross and the CBD to ensure there are safe spaces for people waiting to travel home; and costings be performed to determine whether 24–hour rail transport would be feasible on weekends;
- The removal of the 2014 laws in Sydney CBD should be subject to a review in 12 months.
Selective lifting of lockout laws
On 28 November 2019, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the lockout laws will be lifted in Sydney’s CBD and Oxford Street from Tuesday 14 January 2020, whilst remaining in place in Kings Cross.
The lock out laws will be altered in the following ways:
- Removing 1.30am last entry for all licensed venues in the Sydney CBD, including Oxford Street
- Extending last drinks by 30 minutes at venues with “good records”
- Removing restrictions on serving cocktails, shots and drinks in glass after midnight
- Extending bottle shop opening hours across NSW until midnight from Monday to Saturday, with an 11pm closing time on Sunday
- Increasing small bar patron capacity from 100 to 120 across NSW.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has further indicated the relaxation of such laws will be reviewed after 12 months.