We spoke to punters and traders in Darlinghurst one year into Sydney's controversial lockout era.
Sydney's lockout laws were enacted to combat alcohol-fuelled violence in the city's CBD. People on the street after 1.30am are now locked out of bars and clubs, while last drinks are called at 3. These laws — which came into effect February last year — were largely in response to the king–hit deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie in Kings Cross.
A year on, Kings Cross LAC Superintendent Michael Fitzgerald told VICE rates of alcohol-related violence and crime in his precinct have significantly decreased. "From a Kings Cross perspective the lockouts have been hugely successful," he said.
But business owners in neighbouring Darlinghurst say they're being unfairly penalised. When the lockouts were brought in, there wasn't a violence problem in their local area. And since then takings are down by up to 40 percent, employees' shifts are being cut, and patron numbers are in decline. Rather than blanket legislation, they're calling for better policing.
And there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. A spokesman for NSW premier Mike Baird said, "The government has no intention of changing the legislation."
So last Saturday night, we hit Oxford Street to see what people had to say about the effects the lockouts are having on Darlinghurst's nightlife.
Alex Richardson, bouncer at Ching-A-Lings
VICE: How long have you been working here?
Alex: Since it opened. About six years? It blurs.
And how have the lockouts affected the local nightlife?
There's closed shops everywhere. (She points to several empty shopfronts nearby).
It's changed the atmosphere, the vibe. And it's killed it dead, later around 1.30.
How about positive impact? Is violence down?
It wasn't that bad here. Sure there were drunk dickheads in Darlinghurst, but the Cross is different.
I mean, it's inevitable. It's a numbers game. Where there's X amount of people, there's X amount of dickheads. And this has just moved everything on to other places, like Newtown or Bondi.
What do you suggest should be done?
What they need is harsher penalties for the drunk dickheads. Down at Oxford Art Factory, the cops would just tell them to go away. And they'd never issue a failure to quit.
So you used to work at the Factory?
Yeah, I've worked around here for 13 years. We'd call the cops, but they'd just move them on. Never in all my years have I seen anyone get a failure to quit notice.
Nait Sands, patron, Ching-A-Lings
So what do you have to say about the lockouts?
Nait: I'm from Melbourne. I was there when they trialled lockouts and they failed instantly. Not really because of violence. It was more the people on the street. It was getting crowded and congested and it actually got worse.
I've been in Sydney for six or seven years now - but back then in Melbourne, you'd go out for a cig and you couldn't go back inside.
They're not good for anyone. Bar owners suffer. And how many venues have shut? It's killing it in the later hours.
I'm a 30-year-old man. I work. It should be my prerogative to go and get a beer without big brother telling me what to do. I've got to live with the repercussions of what I do, not everybody else. It's up to me to drink responsibly. The lockouts suck. I think they're really bad.
What do you think this does for Sydney's reputation?
It's really embarrassing. I went to Melbourne with my girlfriend. We got there in the morning and as we drove through the city in a taxi, there were people walking home from the clubs. And it was like, people party all night in this city.
And it's embarrassing on the world scene. There's two guys in here from the UK and they're like, You have to get stuck inside somewhere by 1.30? They can't believe it.
Ménage à Trois and Conchita Grande, drag performers, Stonewall Hotel – gay nightclub
Have the lockout laws changed the nightlife in Darlinghurst?
Ménage à Trois: Definitely they've limited entertainment. They've limited the crowds and the money. Everybody seems just that much more stressed. It used to be a lot more carefree. Now you've got to worry about where you've got to be.
And violence was never an issue on Oxford Street. It's all because of Kings Cross. The lockouts are a real dampener on the nightlife scene.
Conchita Grande: They're terrible because mostly there's never been a problem here. We've just been grouped into where the problem was for no reason. We just want to party and we can't anymore. Many venues are closing and their loss is not a good thing at all.
Well what should be done about the lockouts?
Ménage: Fucking just get rid of them!
Conchita: They should go. And there needs to be a lot more security. Why should I not be able to do what I want to do?
Is it affecting Mardi Gras?
Ménage: Absolutely. It affected it last year.
Conchita: Look around. There's no one here. It should be packed. People spend a lot of money coming to Mardi Gras. But now they're not coming and they're not spending all that money.
Jai, patron, Stonewall Hotel
How long have you been coming to Oxford Street for?
Jai: Since I was sixteen. For fourteen years.
What have the lockouts done?
They've killed lots of jobs for drag queens, DJs and bartenders. And it's caused more violence out on the streets. Before we could stay in bars until 5, 6 or 7 am, where it was safe. Now everybody's out on the street and they're not safe.
How have these laws affected you personally?
I'm a drag queen. It's taken jobs from me. We used to move around doing different shifts in different venues at 1.30, 3.30 or 4.30. Now you're stuck and you can't get in, even if you're working.
It's because of the Cross that Oxford Street got closed down. The Midnight Shift has spent thousands opening a new bar and kitchen, but if they hadn't of, they would have got closed down.
So how do we move forward with the lockouts?
It needs to go back to how it was, because really there's no problem. It was just two or three king hits by straights. Why should it all be shut down because of that?
At 2.30 am we were back out on Oxford Street, locked out of every establishment. So we took a taxi to the Imperial Hotel in nearby Erskineville, where the lockouts don't apply. The place was packed and we could drink freely into the night.
Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulrgregoire
- Vice Blog