Locked out of Sydney

Can We Kill Off Sydney's Lockouts Already?

Another Keep Sydney Open protest has been met with political inertia. Meanwhile, Mike Baird has backed down on the greyhound ban.

by Nat Kassel
11 October 2016, 12:00am

All images by author

On Sunday, Keep Sydney Open protesters took to the streets for yet another public rally against the city's lockout laws. As usual, it was more of a party than a protest. At least 4,000 people (some reports claimed up to 10,000) marched and danced their way up Oxford Street—which was once Sydney's party hub.

At Taylor Square, Sydney musicians including Urthboy and Hayley Mary from the Jezabels made impassioned speeches about the death of Sydney's nightlife. One Day performed a couple of songs. Even Jimmy Barnes backed the rally, releasing a video on Facebook to show his support.

As it stands, venues within the lockout zone have seen a 40 percent drop in live music revenue. A fair number have closed their doors for good. Those working in venues affected by the lockouts believe it's ridiculous to think extending the curfew by 30 minutes could magically fix the Sydney's crippled nightlife.

In an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph, Keep Sydney Open campaign manager Tyson Koh claimed the Callinan Review was "neither thorough nor fair." The key problem, he says, is that the report "[holds] the opinion that lockouts are the only way of reducing assaults."

He's captured the pervasive feeling in Sydney right now. The entire city feels as though it's being punished for the actions of some drunk dudes who got violent in the Cross a few years ago.

No one is denying alcohol-fuelled violence is an issue; however, people are wondering, Why does everybody have to go home early just because some guys want to have a punch-on?

Violence is generally a matter for the police to deal with, surely not grounds for a state-wide curfew. Because, as we all know, there are plenty of non-violent people who just want to go out and get munted in peace.

The argument that comes up time and time again is one that makes Sydneysiders a bit uncomfortable. It's a very simple argument. In fact it's just one word: Melbourne.

How come you can party all night in Melbourne and no one complains about violence? How come Melbourne has 24-hour bottle shops and 24-hour public transport on weekends? In fact, now that you mention it, why don't we all just move to Melbourne?

Almost every speaker at Sunday's rally made reference to the temptation of moving to Melbourne, which has basically become a running joke among young people in Sydney these days. In fact, after the rally there was a truck on Oxford Street advertising Melbourne as a good place to party late.

Keep Sydney Open's Tyson Koh

The argument against leaving Sydney isn't that it's a super fun place to party, or that it's particularly affordable, or that it's got a thriving live music scene. At this point, the reason to stay in Sydney is to defend what's left from real estate tycoons and casino owners. If everyone who's halfway talented and interesting and fun to party with ends up leaving, Sydney will have nothing left.

Hayley Mary struck a nerve when she told the crowd, "Sydney has great real estate prices and green smoothies, but they're not the things that we'll look back on as signifiers of a golden era." People chuckled, but Hayley Mary actually looked like she was choking back tears.

Evidently, musicians like Urthboy and Barnesy feel their legacy is being squandered. And that's kind of what's happening. While it might be a good time to sell your house in Kings Cross, the city feels like it's at war. Not a war with actual violence, but a war on young people, culture, and fun. All of the things people loved about Sydney in the first place.

"The rally proved that Sydney is prepared to fight for its nightlife and music industry," Tyson Koh told VICE. But it'll be a tough fight—those supporting the lockouts are a formidable force: the NSW police association, the state's public health workers, Premier Mike Baird, and the broader NSW Liberal government.

Neither side is backing down, but the government seems to be acting carefully on the Callinan Review, saying they'll deliver a response by the end of the year.

This slower, more consultative approach is likely a lesson learned from the greyhound racing debacle, which saw Premier Baird ban the dogs before overturning the decision. As much as a shit storm as the ban and backflip have been though, many believe the lockouts will be Mike Baird's toughest test.

It is unlikely the NSW government will relax their hardline stance against the lockout laws in response to the Callinan Review. However, if you were down on Oxford Street on Sunday, it seems even more unlikely that Keep Sydney Open will ever give up the fight.

Tyson Koh's attitude has consistently been to keep the pressure on. "We're just going to march on the streets again," he said last time we spoke about the lockouts. "It's as simple as that."

Follow Nat on Twitter

lockout laws
Keep Sydney Open
Mike Baird
King’s Cross