The review into Sydney's lockout laws proposes a 30-minute extension to getting into bars and last drinks

Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images

People in Sydney should be allowed to stay out in hotels and licenced venues for 30 minutes longer than the city’s current lockout laws allow, former High Court judge Ian Callinan has recommended in his review into the Baird government’s controversial regime.

Callinan’s 151-page report concludes the lockout laws have made Kings Cross and Sydney’s CBD “safer, quieter and cleaner”, which was the aim, he says.

But he recommends that the current 1.30am lockout and 3am last drinks measures for live entertainment venues should be extended by 30 minutes to 2am, and 3.30am under a two-year trial.

Callinan also recommends that the state-wide ban on the sale of takeaway alcohol after 10pm should be relaxed to 11pm, and the home delivery of alcohol be allowed up until midnight – two hours later than the current 10pm ban.

The review received more than 1,800 submissions, including Merivale CEO Justin Hemmes, who detailed how Merivale venues had to refuse entry to Grammy Award-winning artists such as Madonna, Prince, Drake, Marilyn Manson, Ed Sheeran and the Smashing Pumpkins and sports stars such as the Arsenal and Chelsea football clubs and British Lions rugby team when they attempted to visit the venues after evening performances because of the 1.30am curfew.

NSW deputy premier and relevant minister Troy Grant said the government will deliver its response on the report before the end of the year.

“There is significant community and stakeholder interest in the report and we are releasing it immediately to give everyone a chance to consider its findings and recommendations,” he said.

In his executive summary, Callinan warns that the issues covered in his report are “complex and controversial”, but concludes that before the lockout out laws came into place, the CBD and Kings Cross were “grossly overcrowded, violent, noisy, and in places dirty”.

After the lockout laws were introduced, “they were transformed into much safer, quieter and cleaner areas” Callinan says, adding that “I understand that the objectives of the [laws] were to achieve these ends. Those policy objectives are, to answer the statutory question, in my opinion valid”.

In response to complaints that the laws had damaged the live music scene, Callinan says:

Many of the opponents said that they treasured live music and resented any deprivation of it, which they, as well as numerous licensees, said had occurred and was attributable to the Amendments, in particular the lockout.

The Amendments do not proscribe music or any form of live entertainment.

Their effect in relation to these is two fold: people who enjoy it may have to make a choice before 1.30am as to where they can enjoy it, and after 3am they cannot enjoy it accompanied by the service of alcohol. If live entertainment is as precious to people in the Precincts as they claim, visitors and providers should be able to programme it so that choice can still be offered up to the lockout, and enjoyed for hours afterwards accompanied by alcohol until 3am.

Callinan says he is “concerned” that people employed in the live entertainment industry have lost employment, but “there is difficulty, however, in defining live entertainment and those necessarily employed in support of it. The difficulty lies in distinguishing genuine live entertainment from a mere mechanical reproduction of it”.

He makes the following observation about how the city’s nightime economy has changed:

Attempts have been made by some licensees to adapt their business models and programmes to the changed hours, largely unsuccessfully. People nowadays tend to start and end their nights out much later than in the past. So far they have been resistant to changes to earlier hours. The lockout has reduced opportunities to visit and revisit different venues, meet different people and enjoy different entertainment at them, and, in combination with the cessation of service at 3am, has reduced the consumption of alcohol in the Precincts.

Callinan concluded that there had been some displacement of expenditure “to other areas not under the lockout legislation, including Double Bay, Bondi and Newtown, and to the casino” as due to the changes, but there was no significant increase in violence in those areas as a result.

“The Amendments have come at a cost which is not quantifiable but which should not be exaggerated to employment, live entertainment and the vibrancy of the Precincts,” he said.

The ban on takeaway alcohol sales after 10pm, “makes little or no contribution to violence and anti-social behaviour in the Precincts, even less so when it is home delivered”, Callinan concluded, arguing that sales should be extended to 11pm.

Relaxing the laws by 30 minutes from the current regime “may go some way to an orderly restoration of vibrancy and employment opportunities in the Precincts. It needs to be understood again however that such a relaxation carries the risk of greater density and consumption of more alcohol in the Precincts”.

His report also points out that compliance to the current Liquor Act by licensees “can be complicated and expensive” and should be reviewed.

In response to the findings, Freelancer CEO Matt Barrie, an vocal critic of the lockout laws told Business Insider that “It’s great that Callinan says we should relax the lockout laws, but by half an hour is clearly silly”.

The full report is here.

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