Why the Sydney lockout laws will do more harm than good

Yesterday, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell revealed a package of new laws designed to target alcohol-fueled violence. The new laws will mean clubs, pubs and music venues in “Sydney’s CBD” – including Oxford Art Factory, World Bar and Goodgod Small Club – will be forced to lockout new customers from 1.30AM and cease alcohol trading at 3.00AM.

In an exclusive op-ed for FasterLouder the owners and operators of Sydney’s GOODGOD SMALL CLUB – a venue that was started three years ago to create an environment that was “music-centric, fun, welcoming and safe” – have spoken out about how the proposed laws could affect Sydney’s late-night music culture and ultimately put more people in harms way.

The proposed lockout and early closure changes to venues in our city are far too one-dimensional. They’re a big step backwards for our thriving music community, a group that dances long into the night whilst respecting their surrounds and one another.

When we started Goodgod three years ago we wanted to create a late-night environment that was music centric, fun, welcoming and safe. We were inspired to create experiences where people felt entertained, understood and cared for. It’s something that we’ve cultivated week-to-week, hosting thousands of incredible bands, DJs and performers for a community that’s as engaged and passionate as we are. And in doing so, it’s become very clear that Sydney wants to be engaged with something much more than just drinking.

While we have enthusiastically embraced a late-night culture, it is one with zero tolerance for violent behaviour. We’ve worked actively to create an atmosphere that’s as welcoming as it is exciting, emphatically rejecting aggressiveness and recklessness in favour of the most eclectic, thrilling and entertaining music parties in Sydney. When it comes to nightlife, cultivating that kind of atmosphere is what keeps people safe.

“The viability of Sydney’s music community and the safety of its patrons is being compromised.”

These new measures present a challenge to our ability to nurture this late-night culture. They risk forcing major events away from the planned lockout zone and into nearby precincts, reduce the opportunities available to musicians and music promoters, and wear down the viability of venues that strive to go beyond simply facilitating drinking for drinking’s sake. For Goodgod, where music is the main currency, and frankly alcohol the support act, we are most saddened by the idea that we won’t be able to curate a night of music that has a natural and mature pace to it.

We’re also concerned that these measures will only serve to aggravate issues with violence in parts of the city. There’s a lot of complicated reasons why young men behave violently, but frustration plays a key role. The 1:30am lockout and the 3am trading halt are likely to create a spike in irritated, angry people on the street. Which, unlike the generally safe environment of venues, is the scenario in which the tragedies that inspired these new laws took place.

We’re concerned that putting a 3am limit on alcohol sales is likely to create a city-wide sense of urgency around drinking, leading to more preloading beforehand, heavier drinking within the hours of alcohol’s availability, and increased drug use once it’s cut off.

Aren’t the safest places in this equation the venues that provide an engaging, responsible and welcoming late-night culture? Isn’t it a mistake to impede their ability to provide punters with a safe and comfortable environment? To us, these laws are reactionary and short-sighted. We’re disappointed that, in the Premier’s enthusiasm to take visible, significant action, the viability of Sydney’s music community and the safety of its patrons is being compromised.

We’re disappointed that harsh limits, and with it an implied indictment, are being served to the Sydney venues that work tirelessly to provide a safe and welcoming late-night environment. And perhaps most of all, we’re disappointed that our entire city, in all of its diversity and vitality, is being told that they are simply not responsible enough to celebrate together into the early hours.

Ultimately, Goodgod was started to provide an answer to the problems with Sydney’s nightlife culture. Barry O’Farrell’s laws don’t just fail to address these issues, but their broad, one-size-fits-all nature also pose a serious threat to solutions like us. They compromise our ability to deliver on our ethos of creating an iconic Sydney club, where music is celebrated and music lovers can enthusiastically party in a welcoming and safe environment.

Written by Jimmy Sing, Adam Lewis and Hana Shimada owners and operators of Sydney’s Goodgod Small Club.

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