Sydney, are you ok?

Sydney, are you ok?

The question was always which is better: Sydney or Melbourne? And the beauty of it was that there was no answer. Sydney has the iconic harbour, its beaches and perpetual sunshine; Melbourne boasts a world-class coffee scene, its signature alleyways, and four seasons in one day. Sydneysiders and Melburnians jostled and jibed each other in a race up a never-ending ladder to be the nation’s best. But in the opinion of many, the balance has shifted.

I had heard muttered complaints and throwaway comments about the Sydney lockout laws, but, living in Melbourne, hadn’t given it too much thought until recently. I was buying clothes through a Facebook group and messaged the seller, who lived in Sydney. It went like this:

 

What the fuck? No rebuttal? No snarky response to my little dig? Just a resigned acceptance that, yes, actually, Melbourne, you are the victor.

Sydney, are you ok?

Implemented in February 2014, Sydney’s lockout laws were imposed to combat alcohol-fuelled violence in the CBD. They followed the coward-punch deaths of two young men, Daniel Christie and Thomas Kelly. The laws entailed no entry to hotels, registered clubs, nightclubs and licenced karaoke bars after 1.30am and no alcohol served after 3.00am. New South Wales also holds a state-wide ban on the sale of alcohol from bottle shops after 10.00pm.

(Except for casinos. They're open.)

It all seems a bit dramatic considering that in October 2013, the NSW State Government bragged about Sydney being dubbed “the safest city in the world”. In fact, violence had been steadily declining since 2008 and, in the period leading up to the lockout laws’ implementation, was at its lowest level since the 1990s. But the media and the NSW State Government treated Sydney’s violent assault levels as an epidemic.

According to NSW Premier Mike Baird, the whole initiative has been a roaring success. He claims a 42.2 per cent reduction in assaults across the CBD, and a 60 per cent reduction in Kings Cross alone. There’s no doubt that those are impressive statistics. But there’s also no doubt that they’ve been cherry-picked.

Kings Cross foot traffic fell 84 per cent from 2012 to 2015, which, as outlined by this FriendlyJordies video, actually means an increase in the potential of being violently assaulted by ~15 per cent. Oxford Street’s foot traffic has similarly fallen 82 per cent. And assaults in Pyrmont, not within but adjacent to the lockout area (and where the Star Casinoresides), have actually increased by 30 per cent since the imposition of the lockout laws.

GOOD JOB, MIKE. You’ve done the opposite of what you’d intended, and you’ve lied about it.

  Getty: Cole Bennetts

Getty: Cole Bennetts

Sydney’s nightlife has been devastated. The CBD has been labelled a ghost town. More than 40 nightlife venues and even two McDonald’s restaurants (a massive, global chain!) have closed in the CBD. Businesses open at 1am plummeted from 750 in 2010 to 363 in 2015. Here’s a list of 10 iconic Sydney nightlife venues which have simply shut down. The majority of them blame the lockout laws either totally or partly for their closure.

Does this make sense to anyone? What the fuck is going on?

Melbourne trialled lockout laws in 2008. They were a spectacular failure, backed by a government-commissioned KPMG report. Similar laws in Queensland were shown by the Queensland Auditor-General to have been a $10 million failure.

Beyond statistics, the people of Sydney have clearly had enough. They are baffled by a government that believes the only places you should be after 1.30am are home in bed or at the casino. If that’s not fucked, I don’t know what is.

There were over 23,000 respondents to a lockout law survey by lifestyle network The Socialites, and a huge 77% feel that the government’s handling of the situation has been “inadequate”. The overwhelmingly negative response to the lockout laws should send a clear message to the NSW State Government.

Isn’t this a democracy?

There is an official resistance. Born of Sydneysiders’ increasing frustration with the lockout laws, Keep Sydney Open comprises members of the music community and represents music venues, bands, DJs, performers, promoters, the music media and law-abiding Sydneysiders who wish to enjoy a night out. They agree that the streets of Sydney should be safe, but that lockouts punish the wrong people. As an alternative, they propose an examination of “transport, CCTV, tougher sentencing, density and diversity of licensed premises, venue management, culture as a placating tool and the tendency towards violence among certain groups of individuals.” Pretty rational dudes, if you ask us.

A Keep Sydney open peaceful protest drew approximately 15,000 demonstrators in February. And almost zero media outlets covered it. Nobody knew. I didn’t even know until just recently. Did you? Soon after the protest, the NSW State Government implemented anti-protest laws that the NSW Bar Association (a bunch of lawyers who practise law for a living) have criticised harshly.

What was happening in Melbourne while Sydneysiders took to the streets to voice their dissent? White Night. Our city was alight for 12 hours in a celebration of culture and creativity. Melbourne is trialling all-night weekend public transport. There is a strong push for it to become a 24-hour city, with late-night art and cultural events continuing to pop up across the CBD.

Baird has promised a review of the lockout laws this year, but has also said, “It’s going to take a lot for me to change my mind.” Over 52,000 signatures have been added to a Keep Sydney Open petition to remove the lockout laws. Is that enough, Mike?

People are leaving Sydney in droves. An estimated 15,000 people moved from the Greater Sydney area in 2013-2014 to regional NSW, Melbourne and Regional Victoria. By contrast, Melbourne’s population continues to grow and is projected to overtake Sydney’s in the late 2030s. But we don’t want to be the only major destination in the country.

Sibling rivalry is one thing, but blood runs thick, and Sydney, we’ve got your back. We support the resurrection of your vibrant nightlife and the businesses that depend on it. Melbourne is headed towards becoming a 24-hour global city by celebrating the arts, food and culture that bring it to life. Sydney should be right there alongside us, jostling for the nation’s top spot, being a good-humoured antagonist and a pestering but much-loved fraternal twin. We miss the competition. It’s lonely at the top.