NSW Liberals question last-minute pub protest against lockout laws | Australia news


A last minute push to get Sydney pub patrons to consider the lockout laws and the future of the city’s nightlife when they cast their vote in Saturday’s New South Wales election has prompted the Liberal party to question whether the state’s electoral donation laws have been followed.

Almost 40 bars pledged to take part in an “Unhappy Hour” action on Friday evening, stopping alcohol service for a short period and urging patrons to consider Sydney’s nightlife when voting.

The action was part of the Unite the Night campaign by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), a registered third-party campaigner whose members include hospitality giant Solotel, venues such as the Oxford Art Factory and arts organisations including Sydney Festival.

The campaign is not advocating a vote for a particular party but it was suggested bar staff urge patrons to go online and look at the campaign “scorecard”, which rates different parties’ promises. The Greens and the anti-lockout party Keep Sydney Open received perfect scores, while Labor received 8/11 and the Coalition received 3/11.

Liberal state director Chris Stone wrote to the NSW Electoral Commission on Friday afternoon asking them to investigate whether the action constituted an in-kind donation from a prohibited donor. Liquor entities are banned from making donations in NSW.

“Where licensed venues are being used for free to promote material in support of one party or another during an election campaign period it should [be recognised] this is a form of in-kind donation and should be prevented,” he wrote, adding he was seeking urgent advice.

The chair of the NTIA, Michael Rodrigues, said it was aware of the rules and had not taken donations from any prohibited donors for the purposes of the campaign.

He said the campaign aimed to show people “that we need a vibrant nightlife in order to help foster creativity, to sustain and create employment and to position Sydney and NSW as a future creative capital”.

Labor, the Greens and Keep Sydney Open have all made broader efforts to make nightlife and live music factors on Saturday.

Bars and pubs in a zone of inner Sydney have been subject to lockout laws since 2014. The former Liberal premier Barry O’Farrell introduced a 1.30am lockout and 3am “last drinks” policy in response to the violent deaths of two young men in Kings Cross.

Polling initially showed the measures had strong support, though that enthusiasm has softened more recently.

The hospitality, music and hotels industry, as well as a vocal cohort of mostly younger voters, have complained that the laws quashed the city’s nightlife.

Despite some internal dissent, Labor still backs the lockout laws. But the party has sought to capitalise on some of the anger about the closure of live music venues at this election.

The party appointed a shadow minister for the night time economy and live music, John Graham, last year, and has pledged measures worth $35m to address a live music “venue crisis”, including removing liquor licence conditions that restrict live entertainment at hundreds of venues, grants for soundproofing and a “one-stop shop” for noise complaints.

Graham conceded the lockout laws contributed to the crisis but insisted there were broader issues at play.

“It’s certainly not helping, no doubt,” he said.

“But there’s clearly a problem right across the state – there are less entertainment venues than there were when this government was elected in the City of Sydney, in Parramatta, in Newcastle … it is a statewide music venue crisis.”

The Greens remain opposed to the laws. Upper house MP Cate Faehrmann said the lockout, along with the government’s new festival licensing regime and refusal to trial pill testing, was likely to galvanise young people to vote against the Coalition.

“I think they’re recognising just how much they’re missing out on compared to previous generations,” she said.

The Greens face a challenge for this vote in the upper house from Keep Sydney Open, the anti-lockout protest group turned political party, which is contesting the election for the first time.

Lead candidate Tyson Koh said the laws had a profound impact on Sydney: “There are less jobs, less bands, less DJs, and it’s a real shame, because Sydney used to be one of the great nighttime cities of the world.”

Keep Sydney Open’s decision to advocate a second upper house preference for Sustainable Australia, a party advocating a 50% cut to immigration levels, and then Animal Justice, before the Greens, has drawn some criticism in recent weeks, though the party has defended the move as an election strategy, not necessarily an endorsement.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party, which could increase its presence in the lower house on Saturday, is also in favour of overturning the lockouts.

Bureau of Crime Statistics director Jackie Fitzgerald said there had been an overall reduction in assault in inner Sydney following the lockouts, despite an increase in non-domestic assault in areas just outside the lockout zone.

A spokeswoman for the racing minister, Paul Toole, pointed to the government’s decision to relax the lockout and last-drinks policy by half an hour in 2016 and said the Coalition was committed to “striking the right balance between a vibrant nightlife across NSW and ensuring people remain safe”.



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