Why lockouts are wrong for Sydney nightlife

Last week, Sasha Skalrud – VAMP Music promoter, longtime World Bar/Candy’s Apartment DJ, Kings Cross resident and manager to artists who are regularly booked for shows in the Cross – posted a status to his personal Facebook page about the effects of the NSW Government’s fight against “alcohol-fueled violence”. Yesterday, inthemix approached Skalrud for his permission to reproduce an edited and expanded upon version of his post.

Today, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell announced a package of new laws designed to target alcohol-fueled violence. The new laws will mean clubs and pubs in Sydney’s “CBD” – a definition that includes everywhere from Kings Cross to Oxford St, George St and more – will be forced to lockout new customers from 1.30AM and cease alcohol trading at 3.00AM. Already, the new package has been met with outrage from the club owners, tour promoters, DJs, bar staff and the many more law-abiding citizens who make their money in the nightlife industry and whose business will greatly suffer under the new legislation. Though this piece was written before the controversial laws were announced, it’s even more pertinent now.

I know a lot of people are writing about the deaths in Kings Cross and our government’s fight on “alcohol-fueled violence”, but given I’ve worked in Kings Cross and in nightclubs for six years, I thought I’d throw my two cents in.

I’ve never seen the kind of behaviour I now see on a weekly basis a few years ago – it is cowardly, pathetic and down right idiotic. But I think the real problem goes deeper than just alcohol. Both Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie were hit at approximately the same time, between 9.00-10.00PM. Thomas Kelly’s attacker was even rejected from the venues he tried to enter.

So let’s start with the obvious: If we had a 3.00AM close for all venues in Kings Cross, these attacks would’ve still occurred. More importantly, if we have a 3.00AM close, you’re pushing every punter simultaneously out of the nightclubs into the same area. Instead of leaving sporadically, you’re going to have a clusterfuck of people fighting for cabs – at the exact time Sydney cabs have changeover, no less – and wandering the streets aimlessly. Surely, that would only mean more violence.

When people ask me if I think it’s dangerous in Kings Cross, I reply that it’s dangerous everywhere. But I’d rather be in Kings Cross where there are tens of thousands of people walking around, hundreds of policemen and security guards, than an un-policed suburban area. In Kings Cross, the brainless half-wits responsible for cowardly acts of violence are more likely to be caught and less likely to actually do anything with crowds of people around and a heavy police and security presence.

If you close the venues at 3.00AM, throw in some harsher liquor licensing laws and hope that violence will suddenly stop, these idiots will just move onto their local or go to another party district and do the exact same thing.

This is no time for naivety. Here’s what’ll happen if you shut down Kings Cross: Illegal parties will start happening by the handful. Underage kids will attend these parties because there won’t anyone there to stop them. These parties won’t have RSA Marshalls and bar staff who’ll be able to cut off their alcohol supply once they become intoxicated. Drugs will be more readily available because at present, people are less likely to risk dealing in Kings Cross due to the police presence and drug dogs that they often bring with them. There will be no police or security guards to stop the fights that will inevitably break out at these illegal raves and warehouse parties.

“Alcohol-fueled violence” will increase, underage kids will get hurt and police will have much more work on their hands. The only difference will be that the trouble won’t be contained to a specific area where it would be easier to manage. Does the government plan to shut down the next area that becomes popular?

The answer? I believe every venue should have scanners to identify every person that walks into a licensed premises. If anyone causes trouble inside the venue, they’ll be blacklisted and banned from all venues. If anyone is caught on the streets of Kings Cross or the city exhibiting anti-social behaviour, or if they’ve been involved in a violent or unprovoked attack, they too should be blacklisted from Sydney venues.

We need harsher penalties for violent acts, especially the unprovoked ones. People have to know that there’ll be severe consequences for committing such cowardly acts. We need more policing in the area. At present, police patrol in large groups – that’s unnecessary. What we need is groups of two or three officers, spread out over the entire area.

We need to raise the question of transport. When people leave venues – even at early times of 1:30 or 2.00AM – there are no trains or buses in the area, and taxis will only pick you up if you’re going a far enough distance. We need to implement a proper public transport system so people can safely get home at anytime of the night.

I feel so strongly about this because if the NSW government decide to put these new laws in, my business will suffer. Why do the nightclub owners, licensees, promoters, 7/11s and local eateries of the 2011 postcode have to suffer because of the actions of a very minute few? Why should we be sent broke because policy makers and police are unable to do their job and contain the Kings Cross area?

Quick fix solutions will have no real effect on the problems at hand – all they will do is hurt the honest business owners trying to make a living, and the 99% of law-abiding club-goers who hit the Cross every weekend without incident.