Matt Barrie, CEO of Freelancer.com, has taken a massive swing at the New South Wales government and Sydney’s lockout laws, arguing they have destroyed the soul of the nation’s biggest city.
In a colossal 8,400 word post on LinkedIn — which is now going viral — Barrie slams the government for its “Orwellian nomenclature” which replaced a thriving nightlife with tumbleweeds.
We’ve broken down the meaty article into bite-sized portions.
Something pernicious has happened in the fifteen years since, and Sydney has not just regressed into a ghost town, but there is an undercurrent of something much more sinister in the way the city is being run,” he writes.
Walk up Bayswater Road, Oxford Street or the Golden Mile and club after club is closed; not just after 1.30am, but permanently.
A few months ago the perennial Flinders bar in Darlinghurst closed. Then the century-old Exchange Hotel shut down… Following that, the evergreen Goldfish bar in Kings Cross. Then Soho.
Every week, another venue or restaurant closes. The soul of the city has been destroyed.
‘Kings Cross, in particular, has been decimated so badly that it will never, ever, come back as an entertainment precinct.
The killing of the Cross
Once the heart of Sydney’s nightlife, Kings Cross bore the brunt of the changes, Barrie says:
Hugo’s Lounge closing, which was the swankiest bar in Sydney for fifteen years and voted Australia’s best nightclub five years running, was the last nail in the coffin for the area.
Manager Dave Evans cited revenue falling by 60% due to 36 different “stringent conditions” that had been placed on the business over the past two-and-a-half years. The closing of the venue made 70 staff lose their jobs.
Hungry? Good luck finding a restaurant or vibrant area open late now. Down the road, Jimmy Liks, an upmarket and seductively lit Southeast Asian eatery, wine bar and cocktail bar is likewise bust. A sign hangs out the front “Thank you Sydney for an amazing 14 year journey. NSW Lockout Laws cost good people their jobs and decimated a once great and vibrant suburb!”.
Even Australia’s staple fast food franchise and destination of choice for hungry late night revellers- McDonald’s on George and Bridge Streets in the center of the city- has, rarely for the global franchise, shut down.
On Saturday nights tumbleweeds blow across the main entertainment precincts for Sydney – Kings Cross, Darlinghurst and Oxford Street.
Barrie references the City of Sydney’s recent report “The Late Night Management Areas Research Phase 4”, released last month.
Although the City of Sydney uses some statistical tricks to justify the lockouts are working, the truth can be seen in the data.
From 2012 to 2015, it was recently reported that King’s Cross foot traffic was down 84% as 42 bars, clubs and small businesses closed as takings fell by 40% or more. Foot traffic in Oxford Street is likewise down 82%. This is already on top of a drop of up to 60% which occurred from 2010 from 2012 as the increasing regulation kicked in.
He argues the numbers are being massaged to suit the government and council’s narrative and are not consistent.
In 2010 there were about 1,100 businesses open at 11pm across 4 areas, by 2012 this had dropped to 366 across 8 areas, but in 2015 the number was 579 in 10 areas.
In 2010 there were about 750 businesses open at 1am across 4 areas, 212 in 2012 across 8 areas and 363 in 2015 across 10 areas.
And at 4am there were a little over 400 businesses open in 2010 across 4 areas, 110 in 2012 over 8 areas and 208 in 2015 across 10 areas.
The inconsistency in the presentation of the data and the continued bolstering of sample sizes in these reports (is) used to justify that the lockouts are working and businesses are fine doesn’t stop there.
Too much government, too many rules
Barrie hits out at the number of rules by multiple levels of government, peaking with 2014’s lock out laws.
A succession of incompetent governments has systematically dismantled the entire night time economy through a constant barrage of rules, regulation and social tinkering.
There is a certain time at night when we are all allowed to go out, and there is a certain time that we are allowed into an establishment and a certain time that we are all supposed to be tucked into bed.
There is a certain time we are allowed to buy some drinks, and over the course of the night the amount of drinks we are allowed to buy will change. The drinks we buy must be in a special cup made of a special material, and that special material will change over the course of the night at certain times. The cup has to be a certain size. It cannot be too big, because someone might die.
Killing Sydney’s tourism
Most damaging of all a 1:30am curfew where you cannot enter a licensed premises, which deliberately aims to kill the trade of any business that operates at night.
Everybody knows that the point of going out is usually to bar hop or visit several venues over the course of the night and that for decades Sydneysiders would be busy at work, dinner or someone’s house and wouldn’t even think to go out until after 11pm.
The Sydneysider’s predilection to going out late is backed up by the City of Sydney’s own report from 2010 showed that foot traffic in Kings Cross continued to grow until 11pm. This brutal rule pointedly kills market liquidity in an industry that relies upon bar hopping from venue to venue.”
This has set off a domino effect which has wiped out Sydney’s main entertainment precincts- if one venue closes in an area, it’s likely the venue next door will also close, and so on. Once the late night club is closed in a street, the bar where people used to meet before will close because there’s nowhere to go after, shortly followed by the restaurants that people usually ate at before going to the bar, and so forth. Until, as in so many places in Sydney today, the area is devoid of any commercial activity.
The damage to the night time economy in the number of businesses closed as a result of these laws across all entertainment precincts is staggering.
And he’s certainly not happy that “the Star City and [impending] Barangaroo casinos, which both have 24×7 licenses and were conveniently left out of the lockout area.”
We think we’re bad because the government has told us so
We’ve all been guilt shamed into thinking that something in the Australian psyche is ugly and that mixed with alcohol we turn into raging brutes, or that by simply having fun somehow we’ve been breaking some great moral code, the eleventh commandment: thou shalt not have fun.
If the Government was truly interested in your safety and not purely on a moralistic crusade, there are plenty of other things that are more dangerous to your health. Did you know that on average an Australian dies every three days in Thailand? You are far more likely to die falling over, out of bed or off a ladder than in anywhere near a licensed venue in Sydney.
Travel anywhere overseas and you’ll see what I mean.
I was recently in London and went out for a drink one night after work. I was shocked to see people standing around, drinking outside the pub. Drinking out of glass! Not just any glasses, large glasses (which are – you guessed it – banned in Australia).
I watched in wonder as someone proclaimed that they had left something at home, and walked across the road, beer in hand and in full view of the bouncers to fetch it. They cheerfully returned a few minutes later with said glass and continued to stand outside the pub drinking.
And do you know what the really amazing thing was?
Later that night, the London bouncers helpfully provided plastic cups so when the venue closed you could pour your beer into one for the walk home.
The Liberal Party is hurting small business
What is absolutely incredulous about this is that most of the rules were implemented by the NSW Liberal Party. This is the party founded on the bastion of economic liberalism, which is supposed to believe in the free market and that the greatest possible number of economic decisions are made by individuals, not organisations or governments.
Quoting directly from the NSW State Liberal Party’s website, “We believe in individual freedom and free enterprise and if you share this belief, then this is the Party for you [.. we believe in ..] the inalienable rights and freedoms of all people; we work towards a lean government that minimises interference in our daily lives and maximises individual and private-sector initiative”.
Instead today’s NSW State Liberal Party practices the complete opposite – interventionist economic policies deliberately designed to damage the balance sheets of commercial businesses that unduly interfere and restrict personal choice and economic freedom in order to achieve nanny state moral outcomes.
Where landlords can be commercially punished to the point of insolvency due to the actions of a tenant. Where commercial businesses can be punished to the point of bankruptcy due to the actions of their customers. Where the NSW State Liberal Government bankrupts businesses due to the actions of completely unrelated parties, people that have never been a customer or even walked onto the premises.
Venue owners are too afraid to speak out against the draconian rules while they are operating their businesses due to the three strikes policy of the Office of Liquor and Gaming NSW.
There is a word for this form of government that is rapidly ramping up in New South Wales and it’s called Totalitarianism.
“’A political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible. Totalitarian regimes stay in political power through an all-encompassing propaganda campaign, which is disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that is often marked by political repression, personality cultism, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of speech, mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror” according to Wikipedia.
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?
The NSW Liberal Government disguises banning things as policy because it makes them look tough in the news and distracts the public from the fact that they actually have no policy other than religious dogma and trying to buy off marginal seats for the next election. It is furiously selling any asset that isn’t bolted down, and in many circumstances even those that are bolted to pay for it all.
If it were technically feasible, the NSW Government wouldn’t just move the Powerhouse Museum to Western Sydney, it would relocate the Harbour Bridge and Opera House to Western Sydney along with it.
The new scene is bad for international business too
When tourists used to visit Australia, they used to marvel at our easy go lucky attitude and laid back lifestyle. Now they go home and call us the “world’s dumbest nation”. Not just anyone said that, those were the exact words that Tyler Brûlé, editor-in-chief of Monocle and columnist for the FT Weekend, used.
Tyler recently said “I need to be able to open a pop-up shop in Surry Hills and walk on the pavement with my wine glass. To me that’s actually important”, before astutely adding “it is not going to bring about the collapse of society”.
This universal attitude struck particularly hard with me because not so long ago I called one of the top recruiters in Silicon Valley to ask about whether they could fill a senior role for me.
The call lasted less than a minute “Look, as much as I would like to help you, the answer is no. We just turned down [another billion dollar Australian technology company] for a similar role. We’ve tried in the past looking, nobody from Silicon Valley wants to come to Australia for any role. We used to think maybe someone would move for a lifestyle thing, but they don’t want to do that anymore.
“It’s not just that they are being paid well, it’s that it’s a backwater and they consider it as two moves – they have to move once to get over there but more importantly when they finish they have to move back and it’s hard from them to break back in being out of the action.
“I’m really sorry but we won’t even look at taking a placement for Australia”.
Anyone young and intelligent is fleeing the country. In the tech industry the brain drain is accelerating.
The bigger picture
Barrie finishes pointing out the knock-on effects:
It’s not just the economic damage to the immediately affected bars, pubs and clubs, the musicians, entertainers, hospitality staff, restaurants and cafes. It’s the whole economy around it- newsagents, take-away stores, pharmacies, places of accommodation and tourism. Taxi drivers have anecdotally told me their takings are down by 40% or more – and that’s the drop because of their night time take disappearing, and before the impact of Uber.
I am very surprised that the operators of these damaged businesses don’t sue the Government for compensation given the change in regulatory environment. Whilst recently embracing the sharing economy, the NSW Government implemented a $1 tax per on trip on ride sharing in order to fund transfer payments to affected taxi plate holders from the change in regulation.
He concludes: “The world is moving ahead, rapidly. Sydney is not just being left behind, it’s regressing into the dark ages.”