Locked out of Sydney

Sydney's Anti-Lockout Protesters Delivered Two Years' Worth of Anger to Parliament

Keep Sydney Open compiled 12,000 signatures and delivered them to Parliament on Thursday. Most MPs responded by not being there, save for a few glued to their phones.
13 May 2016, 12:00am

Since 2014, Sydneysiders have been fighting back against the Baird Government's lockout laws. In an attempt to curb alcohol-related violence, these controversial laws prohibit entry into licensed venues after 1.30 AM and enforce last drinks at 3 AM. Government research suggests violence has dropped within the lockout zone—although these figures are disputed—however, critics argue it's come at the cost of homogenising Sydney's culture.

Keep Sydney Open has been one of the leading voices against the lockouts. Yesterday it presented a petition, signed by 12,000 people, to the NSW Legislative Assembly. Jenny Leong, the Greens member for Newtown, introduced the petition on behalf of the group. In many ways it was standard, bureaucratic way to voice discontent, but Leong made it funny.

That's Jenny Leong in centre of frame. Photo by the author.

She railed in parliament about how "we built this city on rock 'n' roll" and now we have to "fight for our right to party" because "we love the nightlife, we love to boogie." Leong referred to those responsible for alcohol related violence as "drunken dickheads" and on multiple occasions referred to Premier Mike Baird as "Casino Mike."

The gallery was packed with Keep Sydney Open supporters, in stark contrast to the chamber, which was fairly devoid of politicians. "You'll note the attention being paid by the Baird Government," Leong said to the few Liberal members present, who were either chatting to each other or engrossed in their phones. It was unclear whether they even heard her jibe, but the punters in the gallery laughed.

"We don't need Mike Baird to tell us when to go to bed," Leong said at the end of her speech, to which the gallery erupted with applause. The Speaker of the House reminded everyone that clapping wouldn't be tolerated in the chamber. For a minute it kind of felt like a primary school excursion to parliament, except everybody was a grown up with a proper job.

From there, things descended back to the expected blandness of political procedure. John Sidoti, one of the few Liberal members who'd bothered to show up, reiterated the lockout laws were currently under independent review and the results would be made public. The government would assess the evidence, he said.

Next up was the Labor member for Maroubra, Michael Daley, who admitted that the lockout laws were flawed and "introduced with very little community consultation." This was actually a pretty big deal for the anti-lockout movement because the laws were initially enacted with Labor's support.

Me interviewing Keep Sydney Open's Tyson Koh. Photo by Georg Ziesch.

After that, everyone headed for Martin Place. Matt Barrie, the chief executive of Freelancer.com, told VICE that Sydney had become international laughing stock while musician Paul Mac said that if he were a younger man he'd move to Melbourne. But the most affecting arguments came from former business owners.

Jason Ryan, who once owned the Flinders Hotel in King's Cross, explained how he'd been bankrupted by the lockouts. "I lost my business, my home, my car, everything," he said. "At 41 years of age I'm having to start my life again."

Mark Pigott, whose family owned a 24-hour newsagent on Oxford Street for three generations, was almost in tears as he recounted closing the shop in September last year.

But Leong acknowledged that the petition was a solid achievement and encouraged everyone to continue campaigning. "We're just going to march on the streets again," Tyson Koh said. "It's as simple as that."

An independent review of the laws is currently underway by Ian Callinan, a retired Justice of the High Court. His findings will be presented to the government in August.

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