Are the lockout laws really working?

August 31, 2015
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Ten days were all it took for the NSW Parliament to pass the new ‘one punch’ and ‘lockout’ laws following teenager Daniel Christie’s death at the beginning of 2014. The aim? To tackle alcohol-related violence in Sydney’s infamous entertainment precincts.

Havoc ensued, as the move was instantly criticised as being a kneejerk reaction devoid of proper deliberation. But more than a year on and its alleged successes have swamped newspaper headlines, with the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics reporting a 32 per cent decrease in non-domestic assaults in the Kings Cross precinct (an area known for its nightlife), and a 26 per cent decrease in the Sydney CBD.

There have been similar laws implemented around the country in places like Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne. Interestingly, though, after lockouts were trialled in Melbourne in 2008, they were found to have little effect and were quickly revoked. And authorities in NSW have quietly admitted that due to the many and varied changes that were implemented, it’s impossible to tell exactly what is responsible for these improvements.

Indeed, in a recent piece of research into the issue, Dr Mark Giancasporo from the University of Adelaide was quick to point out that the near identical trends seen in South Australia’s capital show “no obvious and systemic correlation between the introduction of lockout laws and a reduction in incidences of alcohol-related violence”. And while the figures reflecting a decrease in violence certainly do seem optimistic, there are always two sides to every story…

Dr Julia Quilter, a senior law lecturer at the University of Wollongong, has extensively researched the ‘one-punch’ laws and the issues surrounding Sydney’s alcohol-related violence. She’s all praise for the statistical improvements, but points out that there has also been a ‘hotspot increase’ in non-domestic assaults in places such as Pyrmont and the Star City Casino - Sydney areas not affected by the 1.30am lockouts.

What about drugs? There’s a lot of emphasis on alcohol, but I just don’t think that there’s anywhere near enough on drugs.

“That seems to be an indicator of a displacement out of the lockout areas,” she says. “While [the laws] do appear to have had a dramatic impact on the faults in [the targeted] areas, it may well be having these unintended consequences.”

Unsurprisingly, the inner Sydney suburb of Newtown has recently announced its decision to self-impose its own lockout policies as it struggles to cope with the influx of partiers who have been drawn to its less-regulated night scene.

Another devastating side effect of the laws has seen the closure of many high-profile venues in Sydney’s entertainment districts - what NSW Senator David Leyonhjelm has described as a “strangulation of our fun suburb” - leaving hundreds of industry professionals unemployed.

Rob* manages a prestigious Sydney nightspot that has certainly copped it since the introduction of the new laws. His venue saw an immediate, rapid decline in revenue, and he’s adamant that he hasn’t experienced the positive outcomes that have been splashed across the news.

“I’ve been here well before the lockout was introduced and I don’t see any improvement in violence,” he says. “I see a lot of fights in my venue which aren’t reported in the paper.”

While he appreciates that the changes were ultimately intended to protect partiers and bar staff alike, he questions whether alcohol is the main cause for concern. “What are we doing about drugs? I’m seeing a lot of heavy drug use in my venue, and I’m not seeing a lot of enforcement by police trying to target that. There’s a lot of emphasis on alcohol, but I just don’t think that there’s anywhere near enough on drugs.”

Australia is dealing with a significant culture of violence at the moment and it needs to be addressed on an educational level.

Cofounder of the (now closed) Imperial Hotel’s Meanwhile party, Kiran De Silva, also believes in an alternative solution, asserting that Australia’s problems with alcohol-related violence start long before youths are even dabbling with alcohol and heading out to venues.

“Australia is dealing with a significant culture of violence at the moment and it needs to be addressed on an educational level,” he says. “We need to be in schools … providing young people with the right knowledge and information to stop violence being so prevalent.”

With plenty of experience working at Sydney venues behind her, Alana Duprez believes the city has lost a lot of its attraction to both locals and tourists. In particular, the 1.30am lockout and 3am last drink rules are hampering business, as people who previously travelled from Sydney’s outer suburbs are no longer bothering to make the trek. For the small proportion that are, it now comes at a greater risk.

“Everyone is out on the streets at the same time – all the clubs are shutting [because] they can’t afford to just stay open,” she says. “Then there isn’t another train until five. So everyone’s just hanging around outside for two hours.”

In essence, the overall effectiveness of Sydney’s lockout laws is in hot dispute. The general consensus seems to be that increased police presence, improved transport options, targeted illicit drug management and banning glass from clubs are some of the most effective ways to pip this problem at the post. But as Alana constantly reiterates, “[violent people] are never going to leave. Those people have strong intentions to cause trouble.”

If one thing is certain, it’s that there are a lot of disgruntled people condemning the laws, and we need to dig a little deeper - both in Sydney and in other capital cities - to properly judge their effectiveness.

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.

Hannah Hughes

Hannah is passionate about lime milkshakes. She also enjoys befriending ducks at the University of Wollongong, where she studies law and journalism.