Recently I spoke on Adjournment in the NSW Upper House to give some context and share my views on the controversial ‘Lock-out’ laws currently in place across parts of the Sydney CBD and Inner-east. The laws are currently being independently reviewed by the Hon. Ian Callinan AC QC.
Over two nights, I spoke about the history of the night-time economy in the Kings Cross area, from my perspective as a Councillor representing the area from 2000, and as a local resident and business-owner. As I said in my speech, there is no doubt the laws have been successful in reducing alcohol-related violence and re-establishing authority on the streets. The government now needs to think carefully about what we do next to make sure that Sydney continues to be a thriving, creative, world-class city; a city that is safe for everyone to venture out to in the evening.
You can read the two short speeches from hansard here, and as always I would be pleased to hear your views on this important issue.
The Hon. SHAYNE MALLARD [4.13 p.m.]: I will speak about the New South Wales lockout laws and put some context around the current situation based on my direct experience as a local and a former councillor for the area. I will also put on the record my views around the lockout laws. The New South Wales Government has announced that the Hon. Ian Callinan, AC, QC, will be conducting a review of the laws, which I am sure many people will welcome. I encourage all those either in support of or opposed to the lockout laws to make a submission via email to[email protected] by 4 April this year.
I speak today as a former resident of Kings Cross. I lived and socialised in the area from the early 1990s to 2011 and was an elected councillor representing the area from 2000 to 2012. I ran for the State seat twice, in 2003 and 2012. Over that time I involved myself heavily with community groups, which I still do, and businesses and key organisations on the ground such as the Wayside Chapel, the Salvation Army's Oasis Centre for youth and the Matthew Talbot hostel, just to name a few. From a medical and harm reduction aspect, I was involved with the medically supervised injecting centre and I was on the board of the AIDS Council NSW and involved with St Vincent's Hospital.
As someone who has been part of that community, I perhaps see the current situation from a slightly different context; a more intimate one. For some background, Kings Cross has always been the playground of Sydney. When I say Kings Cross, I mean before the real estate industry contracted it to mean just around the Coke sign. It used to extend to Oxford Street and was quite a large area including Darlinghurst and East Sydney. For a detailed biography of Kings Cross from colonisation to recent years, members should read the literary anthology "In the Gutter Looking at the Stars—A Literary Adventure Through Kings Cross" by renowned playwright Louis Nowra and local Sandy Mayers, who are residents of Kings Cross. It is an excellent history through literature of the Cross, which draws the full picture of the evolution of Kings Cross through the eyes of many well-known writers and poets of Sydney.
It is said that like a bathroom every city needs an S-bend—somewhere for the icky stuff to get caught. Indeed, Kings Cross was Sydney's S-bend for many decades. But this started to change around the Olympics in 2000 when Labor designated Kings Cross as an entertainment precinct, permitting new 24-hour liquor licenses to concentrate in the area. At around that same time there was a general dispersal of the area's predominant industry, being the sex industry and related activities. Sex clubs, massage parlours and prostitution areas migrated to their customer base in the suburbs and, importantly, online.
When I was first elected the big issue in the area was prostitutes, both male and female, plying their trade on streets, in lanes and on the bonnets of cars around the area. By the 2008 election that had dramatically changed and the big issue was booze and related violence on the streets of Kings Cross. This coincided with the area's gentrification as hotels became upmarket and apartments and boarding houses converted to their former glory as luxury homes. Commercial properties along the golden mile and adjacent suburbs changed from seedy takeaway and tourist shops to nightclubs and bars. Strip clubs became trendy bars and attracted huge crowds of partygoers on weekends.
It was much less about the footy club and bucks night out for the strip club girls and more about suburban groups of young people having a good night out and clubbing. Let me state for the record that I see nothing wrong with a good night out and clubbing until after dawn. I have done my bit as a much younger man, but I would not encourage it as a long-term lifestyle. Frankly, it is a rite of passage for many young people. There is a legitimate industry built around the night-time economy to service that demand, from bars and clubs to live music and fashion. It is worth many millions of dollars to the New South Wales economy and, importantly, is an employer of young people.
Whilst I might have done a bit of bar hopping and visited nightclubs late last century, there was always a seedy side to it as well and a dangerous side to the area. Perhaps that is what attracted a lot of people. More and more, larger crowds of aggressive young males pumped up on alcohol, some on drugs, often on steroids and, of course, testosterone were making Kings Cross their aggressive weekend playground. We locals learnt early on to avoid the main strip on Friday through to Sunday morning. I recall the local area commander at the time, Dave Darcy, describing Kings Cross on weekdays as being like a sleepy country town.
Pressure on the council and services such as police and medical services from larger and larger weekend crowds began to build in the early 2000s and coincided with more and more assaults. Louder and more aggressive crowds swamped the Cross. This then started to flow through to Oxford Street. The world-famous gay nightclub strip began to change for the worse quite dramatically. As the gay and lesbian community dispersed from the area, clubs turned to new clientele, new clubbers and those attracted to their environment. [Time expired.]
The Government tried more police and special operations, with sniffer dogs and a riot squad presence in Kings Cross. All of that was intimidating to law-abiding citizens in the area. The council imposed severe controls on development applications for alcohol-related businesses and invested in a closed-circuit television network. But increasingly it seemed that authorities had lost control of the streets. I have always resisted collective punishment imposed upon a group because of the blatant antisocial behaviour of a minority. Indeed I have resented it. My libertarian streak wanted us to work on personal responsibilities, and I was quite public about this. I know that many of the protesters today, including the Keep Sydney Open group, are primarily motivated by freedom of expression and a libertarian perspective. I relate to that, but the assaults and tragic deaths associated with the entertainment precinct made it clear that authorities had lost control of the streets.
In 2012 Premier Barry O'Farrell tried once more in Kings Cross with Operation Viking—when the Government flooded the streets with hundreds of police on weekends—and it failed. It was obvious a new approach was required. The Government needed a short, sharp jolt of authority to reset the situation. And so reluctantly, and with huge objection from the pubs and clubs industry, the much lauded Newcastle lock-out laws were trialled in Sydney. This is the antithesis of the policies being decried in some social media campaigns as some kind of Baird Government-led Christian conspiracy. I think the history and actions I have outlined, last week and today, show this to be a falsehood and an overreach by those opposed to the lock-out laws.
So where to from here? In my submission to the review I will be outlining much of what I have said in this speech. I will make the point that the short, sharp jolt has reasserted government authority over the streets of the entertainment precincts of Sydney. The public, the bar owners, the workers and even the undesirables know who is in charge of our streets and what behavioural standards we expect in our society. So I will be recommending that there be a selective relaxation of the crackdown. We have achieved our primary objective: We have regained control of the streets. Assaults and crime are down in the areas—we applaud that—but so, too, is the night-time economy, and the associated jobs and creativity. Personal freedoms and civil liberties have also been affected.
I suggest we look to Melbourne to see how to restructure our night-time venues in the best way and encourage the decentralisation of 24-hour venues. I suggest that we put in place anti-clustering planning provisions. The 24-hour night clubs or late-hour trading clubs would be on restricted licences with government oversight, and should be a minimum of two or five kilometres apart—too far to walk so that people do not congregate in the streets. Much the same has happened in Melbourne—more through luck than planning—creating minimum disruption to that community. I think that minimum disruption will also apply in Sydney. Dismantling the entertainment precincts is the way to go. Above all else, I believe that, as a government, we should have more trust in our citizens and loosen the restrictions slightly to let the blood and creative juices flow back into the city's night life. But we must be prepared to act if this trust is again abused.