Newcastle hotels in call for review as Mike Baird loosens Sydney lockout laws

SERVE: Rolly de With, from the Australian Hotels Association, wants Newcastle's lockout restrictions to be reviewed after the Baird government announced changes to Sydney's rules. Picture: Marina Neil
SERVE: Rolly de With, from the Australian Hotels Association, wants Newcastle's lockout restrictions to be reviewed after the Baird government announced changes to Sydney's rules. Picture: Marina Neil

NEWCASTLE hoteliers are calling for the same relaxation of lockout laws that the Baird government has announced for Sydney.

Under a two-year trial, lockouts will be extended by half an hour to 2am and last drinks will be served at 3.30am at live entertainment venues in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross.

The changes are in line with the recommendations by former High Court judge Ian Callinan, who conducted the first formal review of the Sydney lockout laws since they were introduced in 2014.

Rolly de With, the president of the Hunter branch of the Australian Hotels Association, says it was time Newcastle’s late-night lockout restrictions were reviewed.

“Sydney has had a review after two years, and we’ve had this in place for almost nine years without a formal, independent review,” Mr de With said.

“We’d be asking for parity, for the same conditions as Sydney.”

But Tony Brown, who was a prime mover of the changes introduced in Newcastle in 2008, said he’d be concerned by any pressure to “try and undo what’s been an international success story, for short-term commercial gain”.

Mr Brown argued that since the lockouts were introduced, the reduction in late-night assaults and injuries had made the city a more vibrant place, which had been good for business, including for hotels.

“The industry has never been more profitable; there’s been 140 per cent increase in the number of smaller bars and restaurants,” Mr Brown said.

“There’s a much more positive vibe after the dark days.”

However, Mr de With asserted the number of venues trading late at night in the lockout zone had shrunk from fourteen in 2008 to only three or four.  

Newcastle City local area commander Superintendent John Gralton said the current system was working.

"I think Newcastle has clearly demonstrated success with the lockout laws and the reduction in sales of alcohol after 3am.''

According to Professor Kypros Kypri, from the University of Newcastle’s School of Medicine and Public Health, just before the restrictions were introduced, there were 99 late-night assaults a quarter. By early 2015, that figure had been halved. 

“Thousands of assaults have been prevented since the Newcastle restrictions have been put in place,’ he said. 

Professor Kypri said he was not opposed to a review of the restrictions. He argued while reduced drinking hours were effective, he questioned whether lockouts helped reduce harm. 

“I think you could make a case for restricting last drinks to 2am and eliminating the lockout,” he said.

“Controlling the amount of alcohol is the key, and there is no evidence lockouts are effective.”

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp believes a review would be “good for fine-tuning” the restrictions.

“We’ve had these laws in for eight years, we’ve had some great changes in terms of violence reduction and the increase in small bars,” Mr Crakanthorp said.

“If Sydney has had a review, Newcastle should have the same.”

While the Sydney lockout laws were put in place by the state government, the Newcastle restrictions were imposed by the former Liquor Administration Board on individual venues’ licences.

A spokesman for Liquor and Gaming NSW said any changes to the licence conditions would have to be considered on a case-by-base basis by the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, the body that replaced the Liquor Administration Board. 

Newcastle City Council is working on a strategy to encourage and promote the night-time economy. A spokesman for the council said any changes to the lockout arrangements would need to be made in consultation with the police, the Newcastle Liquor Accord, and local businesses.  

Under the changes announced by the state government, bottle shops will be able to open an hour longer. The time restriction on take away and home delivery alcohol sales has been extended to 11pm across the state. The changes to the Sydney lockout laws and take away sales begin in January.

Revellers weigh in on pub dilemma

By BRODIE OWEN

THERE are those who remember the late-night bloodshed, and there are those who think the city is a ghost town that needs to be brought back to life.

The Newcastle Herald hit the streets on Thursday to hear the reactions to Premier Mike Baird’s relaxation of Sydney’s lockout laws, with a particular focus on whether Mr Baird should review Newcastle’s late-night venue trading restrictions.

David Hampton, of Cooks Hill, acknowledged the laws weren’t ideal, but thought the Premier should leave them untouched for now.

“I would not say they are necessarily the best possible solution to the problems we’ve had in Newcastle in the past … but it is a situation that has worked,” he said.

Fern Bay’s Jaiden Harrison, 17, said the laws unfairly targeted people from outlying suburbs. “If it [the lockout] was a bit later, they would have more of a chance to get in [to the city],” he said.

Carrington’s Lucy Murray believed the laws had not reduced violence, while Newcastle East’s Patrick Wilson pointed out many young people were already “pre-loaded” with alcohol before they hit the pub. 

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