News August 6, 2019

Lockouts front & centre at first Sydney Nighttime Economy parliamentary hearing

Lockouts front & centre at first Sydney Nighttime Economy parliamentary hearing

The ravages of the five-year-old Sydney took front & centre when the music industry, retailers, businesses and academics took to testifying at the first of the three hearings before the Joint Select Committee on Sydney’s Nighttime Economy yesterday.

However, there was a great deal of positivity, pleas for everyone to work together and recommendations on how to make “Australia’s only global city” great again.

The music industry in particular, while respectful to the families of the two teenagers whose one-punch deaths led to the lockouts, held nothing back from the committee about the behaviour of the NSW government.

“We weren’t consulted before the lockouts,” pointed out APRA AMCOS chief executive Dean Ormston.

If they had been, he went on to say, they would have asked about the time frame the government had for a review, what vision it had for the affected Kings Cross and CBD, and how it would relaunch Sydney’s tattered image and reputation if the lockouts proved negative.

Mark Gerber, chief executive of the Oxford Arts Factory, described the lockouts as “a badly thought out law rushed through Parliament without proper consultation” and by people who had no idea of the ramifications at stake.

Oxford Street, he said, had been an example of a precinct which offered diverse entertainment and drew a wide range of people who, despite all odds, got along without issues.

“But by the stroke of a pen, Oxford Street became part of the problem rather than the solution,” Gerber lamented.

In a session about the large number of musicians and promoters who have moved interstate because work had dried up, promoter Nathan Farrell outlined his long-time involvement with the Sydney live music scene and then told the committee that he is next week moving to Melbourne because there’s more consistent work in other states.

Urthboy (Tim Levinson), head of hip hop label Elefant Traks, interrupted the flow at one stage to make this terse point, “You have to know who you’re dealing with here.

“These people are used to taking risks, living on the edge, used to doing four jobs so they can work on their art.

“They just need you to get out of the way.”

Emily Collins of Music NSW unveiled statistics from the association’s upcoming survey – among them, 75% said their gigs were affected because of venues closing while 40% of recipients were of the opinion that “Sydney is dead”.

The Electronic Music Conference (EMC) was a good example of how the EDM scene, based around late nights, was the first to be hit and went underground to survive.

EMC director Jane Slingo revealed the first conference, in 2014, the year the lockouts came in, drew 3,500 delegates.

But that dropped significantly the year after, and went further south in 2016.

Slingo said this was due to international and interstate delegates being disillusioned there weren’t enough venues to see the acts they wanted to, and that a global city like Sydney was not considered exciting enough to travel to.

However, the music industry had many ideas going forward.

Slingo and Collins were among those who believed that the revitalisation of Sydney’s nighttime would happen, and that the landscape has changed so much in the last five years that a new exhilaratingly cool city will be created which all the stakeholders can contribute towards.

Ormston reiterated a call for tax incentives for investment in NSW music, similar to that of the film industry.

Darcy Byrne, mayor of the Inner West Council, recommended that all councils adopt his Good Neighbour policy where residents and venues sit down over a coffee or beer and sort out their issues rather than head to court.

Other suggestions directed at the NSW government were:

  • Get rid of the or change them drastically, so that punishment for venues for bad behaviour by some of their patrons would be judged on a case-by-case.
  • Increase your investment in the music industry instead of its current quarter of what Victoria spends.
  • Come up with a clear vision of what you want Sydney to be at nighttime, and how it will grow its brand and global reputation. You don’t seem to have one at the moment.
  • Accept it will take at least five years to undo the damage that the lockouts have caused to venues, and encourage them to return to music venues with grants and initiatives.
  • Forget the idea of a “night mayor”, that’s “just a marketing gimmick”, work effectively with existing laws.
  • Realise that most of the renegade venue owners have gone, and the survivors have worked in the last five years to create new safe spaces. Listen to them and work with them.
  • Fund more tests of Three Cheers Training’s Special Alcohol Service Hospitality (SASH) program, which has been adopted in parts of the state already and which reported a drastic drop in “incidents” with its approach where venue staff, security and management interact with patrons consistently through the night.
  • Create a regulatory system which encourages not hinders.
  • Get rid of the licence fee which keeps going up 8.5% a year and seems to be more than a sneak tax.

Interestingly, reps from the business and retailers sectors, which had in 2014 supported the lockout laws, are now calling for their repeal.

They admit they had not realised the negative repercussion of the laws, and which affected their members’ trade.

As retail penalty rates for wages kick in after 6pm they want the Federal government to encourage enterprise bargaining.

Sydney Business Chamber executive director Katherine O’Regan said, “Sydney’s nighttime economy already stands as a significant economic contributor, supporting 4,600 businesses and employing more than 32,000 people.

“However, the Sydney Business Chamber believes, and the evidence shows, good policy and planning could enrich our cultural fabric and generate a more robust economy.

“Piloting the removal of lockouts, improving Sydney’s late-night transport, diversifying night time activity, boosting community policing, as well as introducing new restrictions on violent offenders, would positively impact after dark activity within the city while keeping residents and visitors safe.

“For the world’s most competitive 24-hour cities, shopping hours extend well beyond the classic 9:00am – 6:00pm and are a main sources of entertainment for travellers.

“Late night shopping helps keep places like London, New York and Tokyo as world leaders.

“Sydney can’t afford to be left behind.”

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