Business welcomes Sydney’s tough new street violence laws, but hoteliers remain sceptical

The Sydney Business Chamber has welcomed tough new street violence law which impose mandatory 1.30am lockouts on many CBD venues, saying they’re necessary to safeguard Sydney’s reputation as a safe city.

But the Australian Hotels Association is highly sceptical of the new laws, believing they punish businesses that rely on the night-time economy despite their having nothing to do with street violence.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has been under pressure for some weeks to introduce a legislative response to the one-punch death of Sydney teenager Daniel Christie, who died after being punched in the head from behind in Kings Cross at 9.10 pm on New Year’s Eve. It follows a similar incident in 2012 where another 18-year-old, Thomas Kelly was fatally and without provocation punched in the back of the head. 

Yesterday, O’Farrell announced a suite of sweeping measures aimed at combatting the problem of street violence, which include mandatory eight-year minimum jail sentences for fatal one-punch attacks, significant increases in on-the-spot penalties for disorderly behaviour, and increased police powers to ban ‘troublemakers’.

The laws also target businesses. Venues in the Sydney’s central business district and Kings Cross will have 1.30am lockouts and be forced to stop selling drinks at 3am, while bottle shops across New South Wales will be forced to shut at 10pm.

Small bars serving up to 60 people, restaurants, casinos and tourist accommodation facilities will be exempt from the laws.

Parliament will be recalled next week to pass the new measures.

Patricia Forsythe, the executive director of the Sydney Business Chamber, says the new laws are needed to maintain Sydney’s reputation as a safe city.

“We’re a city very much based on the service economy, and as part of that, the visitor economy is one of the critical parts of our economy,” she tells SmartCompany.

“To be able to attract visitors, and be a city popular with tourists, whether Australian or overseas, we need a reputation as a safe place to visit. We’ve had that reputation. The events of recent times in particular, and the media frenzy around those events, have put that at risk.”

The state government’s proposed laws strike the appropriate balance between upping the penalties on violent offenders while also limiting the potential for street violence to occur, she added.

“There’s no single solution. What the government’s tried to do is adopt a multi-faceted approach, which does require changes from business, government, law enforcement and the community in general.”

Forsythe particularly welcomed small bars and restaurants being excluded from the laws.

“They’re not the source of the problem. Indeed, they may be part of the solution.”

However, the Australian Hotels Association has been far less welcoming of the proposed changes.

In a statement, the body said it welcomes tougher sentencing for “thugs”.

“However, we remain sceptical about the effectiveness of lockouts across the Sydney CBD area and ‘last drinks’ at 3am – the time of the taxi changeover.

“We do not believe tens of thousands of people will stay in licensed premises past 3am once alcohol is no longer served but will instead be out on the streets looking for a way home. The government will need to address this new issue.”

“The lockouts and closures in the Sydney CBD will also have an undeniable impact on the night-time economy penalising businesses that are well run and have had nothing to do with the recent violence.”

Before the new laws were announced, the NSW AHA’s director of public policing, John Green, said any lockout would see more young people on the streets in the early hours of the morning.

“Organisations are again using an incident which occurred early in the evening to call for mandatory lock-outs and closures of hotels from 1.30am. Yet no one seems to be able to explain how this would help.

“[It] flies in the face of common sense. The latest tragic incident happened at 9.10pm allegedly by a man on bail for assault. The death of Thomas Kelly happened just after 10pm at the same location in King’s Cross – how would further restrictions on venues in the early hours of the morning make any difference?

“Independent Bureau of Statistics figures show that violence in and around licensed premises [is] at the lowest level in 15 years – this is thanks to the co-operation between hoteliers and police… However, we are being told by doctors that the intensity of assaults is increasing.

“What has changed, and where has the prevalence of the ‘king hit’ culture at all hours come from?

“There is a far deeper explanation, and simply closing hotels and shutting down the city is not the answer. We need to work with the community on finding solutions.”

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