Sydney lockout laws: A bad problem or a Baird problem?

December 19, 2016

 

I've been living in Rio for most of the year, a city which suffers from some pretty bad problems. 

But for all its issues it doesn't suffer from Baird problems - the imagined kind of our conservative NSW Premier, like city streets full of drunken louts apparently too dangerous to walk down at night. 

In Rio the issues police deal with are real and in-your-face and luckily for the law-abiding, fun-loving people of this great city, of which there are many, its politicians don't punish the city's entire population for its lowest common denominator. If they did then the city wouldn't function, as conceivably here much more so than Sydney, danger could await around any corner.

 

But in Sydney the lockout laws, which have CBD doors closed at 1.30am and drinks cut off at 3am, do exactly this, treating good people as criminals in a misguided, morally righteous campaign to have Sydney closed, cleaned and ready for brunch (as detailed excellently here in Matt Barrie's report 'Would the last person in Sydney please turn the lights out?'). 

 

 

After the recent 30-minute relaxation of the laws, to 2am and 3.30am, I made the following comment on social media which received a lot of support from people of all ages.

 

“The lockout laws are a sad indictment on our society and our politicians. The laws which were in response to a number of coward punch attacks effectively propose that a sizeable number of people in Sydney are predisposed to this sort of violence. Is that actually realistic? As a young person going out in Sydney for over a decade I have never been involved in a fight or come close to it, most fights are between fools who want them, find them and become involved in them consciously. The types of cowardly attacks on Thomas Kelly and others are a whole separate class of crime, and to me are more indicative of severe mental health issues, terrible upbringing and lack of any common decency - and should be dealt with and punished with as such - rather than those getting drunk with the boys and coming across another group of yobbos, exchanging words and punching on which is the bulk of assaults on the street. Both are not good obviously, but the second type I mentioned were the catalyst for the laws, and I fail to see how closing pubs and music venues earlier can change a fundamentally flawed human being. So are we as a society to hold ourself to this standard? Is this actually a reflection of who us Australians in Sydney are? We’re unable to have the freedom of choice to go out late like a bunch of children? For me, no, but according to these laws and our politicians, yes. That this is the way Mike Baird sees us, and enough of us see ourselves too apparently, is as I said a sad indictment on us all.”

The thing about a city like Rio with drug gangs which make Sydney criminals seem like school children, and streets actually too dangerous to set foot in, is that the police and politicians here don't tend to sweat the small stuff like micromanaging when and where people can have a beer.

 

Unfortunately the opposite is also true for a city like Sydney, a Play School compared to Rio's Hunger Games, where the police and politicians need to start finding problems where there are none to give themselves something to do. Police in Rio deal with more crap for less pay than cops in Sydney could imagine, yet they don’t shut the city down to avoid its problems.

 

Just over the weekend one of the last relics of Kings Cross as a nighttime destination, Candy's Apartment, was raided, shut down and had everyone tossed out because allegedly some individuals had sold drugs there recently. For one lousy arrest, a 21-year-old man with 60 MDMA caps, amongst a sea of clubbers harmlessly listening to music, the police needed to block a street, put up police tape and bring in the heavies.

 

 

When did this last occur at The Star casino? The favourite haunt for Sydney's lowlife criminals as recently shown in security footage in the media of a procession of dead or jailed gangsters who rolled through there on a weekly basis. But it’s the middle class electro kids dancing at Candy’s who are the target of the riot squad. Juxtapose those two scenes in your mind - I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. As one disgruntled 20-something complained on Facebook following this: "Target the perpetrators! Not the venues, employees, and patrons."

 

If this isn't the definition of making up problems to justify one's own existence then I don't know what is. I've never seen this many police in the one place at the one time in Rio except dealing with violent criminals in the favelas, outside of there they let law-abiding people enjoy themselves. Shutting down a whole club for one drug dealer who was arrested outside the venue? That here, as in Sydney, is a laughable waste of resources that could be protecting the community from actual violent crime. 

 

But the police in Kings Cross are getting to the point where they have nothing to do because nobody goes there anymore. One of Sydney’s most storied, infamous commands is now one of its dullest. Instead, with the backing of the government they apply the last bit of pressure to choke the arteries of Sydney's dying nightlife, soon to be a rotting corpse with painfully boring beige apartment buildings and places for brunch shooting up through it.

 

 

From half a world away here in Rio, where people drink on the street in crowds which would give Mike Baird and the NSW Police Force nightmares, this is all so glaringly obvious. But for Baird and NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, who have probably never lived outside their Pleasantville suburbs, the problems in Sydney are big and bad and need their urgent attention and infallible solutions.

 

And if you question them and want to apply some practical and logical thought and solutions into the debate, you are as bad as coward-punch killer Kieran Loveridge. Because that's where the debate has gotten to, you either support lockouts or if you don't then you are wilfully complicit in some idiot punching someone. The guise is public safety, but the reality is a fist tightly gripped around Sydney's nightlife starving it for life, so soon we'll just have the 'night' without the 'life', without a pulse and without fun.

 

Nearly three years after the introduction of the lockouts, the city's favourite nightspots are crumbling one after the other while a minority of aggressive yobbos still walk the streets and police draw up plans of which licensed venue to march through and screw over next - with the latter in no way helping the former.

 

Besides Potts Point property prices and The Star’s patronage, nothing has been gained from the lockout laws except a dubious, cherry-picked and ultimately emotional claim of less assaults to protect ourselves from ourselves, but for Sydney’s culture certainly so much has been lost. The question now is after the weekend's events at Candy's, where does it stop?

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I'm Ian Walker, an Australian freelance journalist and travel writer who ditched his job as a full-time newspaper reporter to move to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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