Why Queensland Shouldn't Copy and Paste Sydney's Lockout Laws

As the Sunshine State attempts to curb violence with a lockout policy, we look at how the plan has worked out in Sydney.

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29 July 2015, 11:52pm

Attendees at Queensland Locked Out Rally, Parliament House. Image via

Queensland, like NSW before, is set on introducing a lockout policy for pubs and nightclubs. It's an effort to curb violence by ensuring drinkers are inside a venue by 1am, with no incentive to drunkenly linger on the streets. And while the move has seen a reduction of assaults in both Sydney and Newcastle, some say it's been a disastrous move for business owners.

Lockouts were a pre-election promise for Queensland's state premier, Annastacia Palaszczu, who is hoping to get draft policy before parliament later in the year. And the state will basically follow the NSW template: Takeaway alcohol will end at 10pm, bars will close at 3am, but Queensland will impose lockout half an hour earlier—at 1am instead of Sydney's 1:30am.

Given the law has saved lives in NSW, it's hard to understand why it's worth apposing. So we broke down the argument from either sides.

Energy drinks at the Locked Out Rally. Image via

What have been the findings in NSW?

Newcastle was the first Australian city to permanently introduce a lockout policy in March of 2008. At that time, the city was seeing an average of 99 assaults per quarter, between the hours of 10pm and 6am. After the lockout policy, this number dropped to 68 per quarter.

Sydney has seen a similar reduction since reforms in February 2014. Between April 2013 and March 2014, 419 alcohol-related assaults were recorded in Kings Cross alone. In the same period the following year, this number dropped to 266.

A nightclub in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. Image via

That seems conclusive. So why are we arguing this?

Because there's been a cultural trade off. In the 11 months after lockout laws were introduced, 42 bars, clubs and small businesses closed down in Kings Cross alone. And these include businesses that weren't previously struggling. One such example is La Cita, which previously made $2 million annually, only to collapse in July with debts of $580,000.

Sure, but we're saving lives here.

Well, yes and no. There's a plausible argument that Sydney is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Tyson Koh is the general manager of Keep Sydney Open, which is a group representing Sydney's music industry. "We've got a lot of venues that provide a cultural space for bands and artists, he told VICE. "Most have contributed zero to the assault statistics around the city."

There's also evidence that places aren't closing from reduced drink sales, they're closing from reduced sales on everything. A post-lockout survey, conducted by the City of Sydney, recorded footpath congestion in King Cross and the CBD has fallen by up to 84 percent. As Koh says, "Essentially what they've done is made it unappealing for people to congregate in certain areas."

A bar, somewhere in Brisbane. Image via

But couldn't there be some sort of compromise?

Hamilton, a suburb in Newcastle, attempted a compromise by enforcing lockouts but allowed late-night liquor trading to continue. The result was that violence has remained steady. Potentially this could indicate that lockouts are ineffective and rather it's early cessation of alcohol that's the linchpin in reducing assaults.

What if you closed takeaway alcohol early, but allowed venues to stay open. After all people in venues are somewhat supervised, as opposed to people drinking in the street, right?

Crazily enough there does seem to be merit to this. A study conducted across 18 Norwegian cities, showed that increasing or restricting liquor trading hours in shops resulted in a 20 percent change in assaults going either way.

Why isn't this happening then?

Because it's a highly messy, emotive debate. Ralph Kelly, the father of Thomas Kelly, whose tragic one-punch death in 2012 helped build momentum to Sydney's reforms, has very understandably appealed for lockouts to continue, claiming violence would increase if they were repealed.

On the other hand, Professor Kypros Kypri, who works as a health and behavioral scientist at The University of Newcastle, and is the country's leading authority on lockouts, believes they should be scrapped. Kypri argues for a more scientific approach, where the introduction of new policy is treated as an experiment to be evaluated, learned from, and redesigned. Currently Queensland is just copying and pasting NSW's laws, with little refinement.

As he told VICE, "We've got eight jurisdictions in Australia; we should be able to learn things from one another."

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