Reclaim the Streets is an annual protest held by Sydney residents feeling priced out of the property market, unable to afford rent, and under threat of a statewide curfew on late-night partying. And held yesterday, this year's rally attracted its biggest turnout yet.
A crowd of a few thousand marched from Hyde Park to the once iconic party district of Kings Cross, before winding up at Oxford Street. The rally provided the first fight from protestors ahead of a government review of the city's controversial lockout laws in February. "We hope to change a few minds," said Reclaim the Streets spokesperson, Jack London. "We are under no illusion that this (rally) is going to change government policy but it's a long fight and we're happy to kick it off".
The laws, which enforce the closure of bottle shops at 10pm, lock-outs for party goers at 1.30 am, and end service of alcohol at 3 am, came into effect last February. This was after the tragic one-punch deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie, but critics claim they are heavy handed, imprecise, and stymy the city's cultural development. "Our nightlife is a joke. We're the biggest city in the country and nothing's ever open. We should be able to go out and have a boogie after 1.30 in the morning. We should be able to grab a bottle of wine to take home with us after work, especially if we work late," Jack continued.
With businesses reporting an up to 40 percent loss in revenue since the laws were introduced, a string of iconic late-trading Sydney venues have been forced to shut down. This includes Hugo's in King's Cross, Spice Cellars in Martin Place, and the Flinders in Taylor Square. One venue that controversially escaped inclusion in the lockout zone is Star City Casino, which continues to operate under a 24 hour liquor license despite skyrocketing rates of alcohol-related violence. James Packer's multi-billion dollar Barrangaroo casino and hotel project will also escape the zoning.
The march is part of a growing wave of discontent in the city, say organisers, which they attribute to excessive regulations, exploding costs of living, a foreign-investment-backed property boom, and the profit-over-culture motive of lawmakers. As Jack echoed, "There is nowhere for anyone to have fun. It's becoming a culture-less, baron wasteland."
Instead of lockout laws other groups such as Keep Sydney Open advocate "a holistic and lateral approach" to preventing alcohol-related violence. One that examines the range of issues involved, including "transport, CCTV, tougher sentencing, density and diversity of licensed premises, the role of security personnel, culture as a placating tool and the tendency towards violence among certain groups of individuals."
"We'll keep making your voice heard until we get safer streets in a global city," reads their website.
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All photos by Daniel Flynn
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