15,000 people walked the streets of Sydney yesterday for the ‘Keep Sydney Open’ protest against the city’s new lockout laws.
The crowd – which included some of Australia’s top DJ’s, venue owners, chefs, celebrities, and musicians – battled thunderstorms and sacrificed sleep ins to have their voices heard.
That’s three times the turnout of the 2015 Sydney marriage equality rally, and more than seven times the turnout for this year’s ‘Let Them Stay’ asylum seeker protest.
So why is the ‘Keep Sydney Open’ movement is yet to be taken seriously?
The Baird government’s python-like squeeze on Sydney’s once vibrant nightlife is not a ‘first world problem’.
It is not a youth-specific issue, or a tantrum because drinking rights are being revoked.
It is a sociological error that all of Sydney will soon be struggling with the consequences of; regardless of age, drinking habits, or choice of bedtime.
News coverage on the topic has been so biased in its unabashed support for the lockout laws, that many of you readers might be convinced of this utopian CBD Mike Baird is so keenly pushing.
Well, consider this the other side of the story – the real talk behind the never-ending onslaught of grim (albeit curated) facts about alcohol-related violence, drug raids, and Baird’s promise of nightlife Nirvana.
I spoke to three men of three different generations, all of whom attended yesterday’s rally, and all of whom bring valuable insight to the debate.
Hospitality veteran, business owner, and father Eddie De Souza has seen Sydney’s nightlife go from boom to bust.
Eddie first got into the hospitality game in 1997 as a bartender at The Paddington Green. 19 years on and Eddie now owns four businesses, one from every facet of the food and beverage industry: a pub, a late-night bar, a cocktail bar, and a restaurant. All of which, he notes, have suffered from the lockout laws.
Foot traffic has dropped by a staggering 80% at ‘Henrietta’, his late-night bar which sits on the outskirts of Kings Cross. I remember visiting Eddie at the venue just a few years back as they excitedly gave it the final touches before opening night – now, with profits decreasing by almost 50%, I could soon be seeing it close.
His hole-in-the-wall cocktail bar in Newtown, however, suffered a different problem entirely: the young and boozy Kings Cross crowd overtook the tight-knit, inner-west scene – driving locals away. That venue has since closed down.
For Eddie, one of the greatest losses for Sydney is the talent.
At Henrietta, Eddie has had to slash his long-standing kitchen and wait staff from 20 people to just 8. He is without any doubt that many of the city’s hospitality experts – and make no mistake, there are people who dedicate their lives and careers to this industry – are moving interstate or abroad for greater opportunity.
Chefs, mixologists, wait staff, sommeliers, maitre-de’s: these are inimitable trades that take decades of training and commitment to master. And we’re driving them away. For what? Quieter footpaths?
Where would you prefer your kids: in the club, or on the street?
This is the question parents now must ask themselves when throwing their support behind the lockout laws. Whilst they view the crowded city precincts to be melting pots of alcohol-fuelled violence, assault, and drug use; they now need to consider an even more dangerous environment being created – empty streets.
“The safest place to be is inside the venue”, insists Eddie, noting that with CCV, security staff, stringent RSA policies and massive fines for failing to adhere to the government’s rules means that their duty of care is stronger than anywhere else.
The RSA guidelines have been conveniently overlooked in the state’s arguments. The violence and assaults, after all, are not within the venues, but on the the state’s territory – the streets.
And so their solution was simple. Can’t control the crowds? Just get rid of them altogether.
Henry Innis, 23, is a bright young thing. An entrepreneur and digital expert, he is the former federal treasurer for Liberal Students, and a former member of the Admin Committee of the NSW Young Liberals. Yet even he can see the massive flaws in his party’s lockout laws.
“These laws kill the creative community”, says Henry, and he’s quite right. Creatives – artists, writers, thinkers, students, academics – have always relied on the hospitality industry. Not just for the flexible working hours, but for the irreverence, the joy, and the vibrant community vibe.
After all, aren’t all the most genius ideas conjured up over a glass of red wine in the early hours of the morning?
“Other cities around the world have found better solutions.”
Sydney hospitality stalwart Maurice Terzini has been in the restaurant game for a long time, but has never seen a situation like this. Owner of Bondi institution ‘Icebergs’, Maurice has thrown his full support behind the ‘Keep Sydney Open’ movement.
“Other cities around the world have found better solutions,” he says, “I don’t believe in taking responsibility for the few dickheads who resort to violence after drinks.”
Maurice knows that given the opportunity, a better solution can be found.
“I believe that as an educated society we should be debating better solutions. I believe that I have the right to drink at 3am. For 20 years my life was based at night – that did not make me less honest or responsible than someone who works 9 – 5.
I am a father, I don’t want violence, I want a safe vibrant city that is full of inspirational youth – not folks my age not giving a f*ck anymore because they are staying home, and it suits their lifestyle.”
There are less people on the street, but more assaults.
Henry is quick to back up his arguments with the cold hard facts. The rates of assault and rates per capita have increased: foot traffic dropped 84%, but assaults have dropped by only 40%. Drug use has escalated in two years since the lockdown process begun. Cocaine and ecstacy use is increasing.
Henry makes one particularly thought provoking comment – “Violence isn’t volume of assaults, it’s the risk of assault (or assault per capita).”
And with empty streets, that risk feels to be increasing exponentially. How safe would you feel in Sydney city late at night?
Here is a compilation of some footage from Sunday’s ‘Keep Sydney Open’ rally in Sydney. Post continues after video…
People will still party.
The lockout laws are pushing people into unregulated and unsafe environments.
House parties and larger-scale warehouse parties are on the rise, where drug dealers and unsafe building conditions are rife. Compared to the stringent ‘duty of care’ guidelines that the bars and restaurants are legally required to adhere to – well, where would you rather be?
And for the parents reading – where would you rather your kids be?
Sydney is losing its lifeblood.
To our pals across the pond, Australia feels like the end of the earth. Sydney, however, has always had the right amount of glitter to keep the superstars coming. It has always maintained the Popular Girl status for the winning combination of stunningly beautiful beaches, alongside some of the world’s best bars and restaurants.
Well, not any more.
Matt Barrie did not mince words in his outstanding article ‘Would The Last Person In Sydney Please Turn The Lights Out?’ , pointing out Sydney is now the laughing stock of international guests. On his latest stint in Sydney, Russell Brand scoffed the lockout laws, saying,
“I would like to know the real reason they are doing it — to stop people assembling, to stop people communicating?…Anything that impairs people’s personal freedom, generally speaking, or collective freedoms or public freedoms I am broadly against.”
???? yasss @ariane_ariane queen of placards ! — repping also for @levdawg and @beebeebeebo (mum and daddy) who met on the dancefloor at 2am , as well as myself and my boyfriend ???? AND @hollabackboi and @__aak47 ???? and COUNTLESS MORE AMAZING DANCING COUPLES ! yet ANOTHER reason to Keep Sydney Open — for da love ❤️❤️❤️
“Sydney used to be a laid back place where we’re welcome the world to come throw a shrimp on the barbie.” says Barrie.
“Now if you do that and someone takes offence to the smoke, the NSW Government will fine you $1,100 for the first offence, $2,200 for the second and probably put you on a registered barbecue offenders list.“
Sydney loved being Australia’s ‘cool’ city – a popularity contest they are now losing by miles.
Throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
It’s an argument that’s come up at many times during the protests – do you ban all the cars on the road, just to prevent a car accident? No. You monitor how people drive. You create a safe driving environment. You strategically manage an activity which functions to keep society moving along safely.
Similarly, if the government expects the venues to enforce the steely RSA guidelines, why can’t we expect the government to do the same on our streets?
“Tell ’em to go to the pub.”
Eddie had a booking for 60 people in the private, enclosed, courtyard area of his Bondi bar, ‘Neighborhood’. A quiet venue, Neighborhood is a hotspot for families, celebratory Saturday night dinner groups, and locals who can’t go past the venue’s traditional Sunday roast.
Knowing how difficult the local liquor licensing board can be, Eddie called in advance to alert them to the event. It was a degustation, he explained, and they wanted to stick around for a quiet drink afterwards. The liquor licensing rep had a simple solution: “Tell ’em to go to the pub.”
Small businesses in the food and beverage industry are being frozen out. It’s next to impossible to get a liquor license these days, and why would you want to? According to Eddie, you weren’t even allowed to stand at the bar with a glass of wine at his Newtown venue. You had to be seated. With a full meal.
Oh, but remember: if you do want to stand up with a glass of shiraz without the steak, you can just pop down to Barangaroo.
Dark, empty, unsafe.
This is what our city will look like before long. Fear has been stirred up by greedy Barangaroo-funded parties, and their scare-mongering has pushed the Sydney community out of the safe and clean venues into outer-city locations that are unregulated and unsafe.
And whether you’re a club-going kid, a corporate at Friday night drinks, or a family visiting Vivid festival by the harbour – that is not what our city is about.
Look south for inspiration, Mike.
A resident of Melbourne for eight years, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have cut my teeth in such a vibrant and creative community.
I would walk home from work at 3 or 4 in the morning through St Kilda without any fear, as the streets were flooded with locals still laughing over bottles of wine.
I could hail a taxi in the early hours of the morning on Collins Street without worrying about my safety, as there were people still zigzagging from venue to venue.
But most importantly, this is where I met my people. They were the ones in sparkly disco outfits performing on tables at midnight. They were the bar staff and owners who became like family. They provided the colour against what was otherwise a bleak student existence, evolving into the eclectic and genius circle of friends I still surround myself with today.
And without that, where would any of us be?
Mike Baird, take heed: stop looking to the silent suburbs as your inspiration for a perfect city centre.
Melbourne can do it, why can’t you?