Police shut down Saturday night's rally against Sydney's lockout laws for 'safety'

An earlier Keep Sydney Open protest. Source: KSO/Facebook

Organisers of a rally against Sydney’s lockout laws planned for Kings Cross on Saturday night have been forced to cancel it after NSW police commissioner Andrew Scipione intervened to have the event banned.

Keep Sydney Open organiser Tyson Koh appeared in court today after police lodged their application to ban the protest at 4pm yesterday.

Koh was served with a summons at 6pm last night to appear before Justice Geoff Lindsay of the equity division of the Supreme Court at 10am today.

Koh had notified police about his rally on January 9. It was due to take place on Darlinghurst Road in Kings Cross from 9pm on January 20. More than 4000 people said on Facebook that they planned to attend. KSO was expecting 5,000 to 7,000. Police estimated 15,000. The electronic dance group Flight Facilities were scheduled to play.

It would have been the third mass protest held by KSO. In October last year a crowd estimated at 7000 by organisers – police put the figure at half that amount – turned out at Belmore Park in the CBD against the lockout laws.

NSW Police said in a statement to Business Insider that: “While police respect the public’s right to protest, we need to ensure it is done in a safe manner. Due to safety concerns relating to this rally, the application by organisers was not supported.”

Counsel for the commissioner, Paul Coady, argued the organisers had not planned their protest properly. He put it to go that he did not have did not event insurance, security or traffic planning, or safety procedures such as a crowd dispersal and evacuation plans. Around 60 volunteers had been organised to manage the crowd. Alcohol consumption was also raised as a concern, despite the protest not selling any drinks.

Keep Sydney Open’s barrister Mark Robinson argued police had not asked his client to supply any of those requirements after the application was lodged 11 days ago.

Police argued that they were concerned about the size of the crowd in a “residential area”. Access by ambulances to nearby St Vincent’s hospital was also raised as an issue.

Justice Lindsay found in favour of the police, saying he can to weigh up freedom of speech against public safety.

Tyson Koh told Business Insider that the police concerns were laughable.

“This is the state of NSW now. We all know you can’t dance in Sydney late at night but apparently you can’t hold a peaceful assembly either.

“The Kings Cross police were unwilling to make our rally work as other police stations had for our previous protests. They said that 5000 to 7000 people was too much to accommodate, quite laughable when you can consider some 27,000 people frequented the Cross each night of the weekend in its heyday.

“It makes it abundantly clear that when the Cross was a heaving mess, the police and state government failed to provide enough services to handle that amount of people. They weren’t interested in providing toilets or the street closures necessary, yet they’ve made it our obligation to provide them for our lawfully noticed assembly of less than half that. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order.”

Freelancer CEO Matt Barrie, a staunch critic of the lockout laws, called it “a final shameless act” of outgoing premier Mike Baird.

“This is unprecedented. They’re basically trying to shut political speech down with OH&S,” he said.

“First the nanny state took away our right to have fun at night, now we can’t express ourselves politically at night.”

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