Thousands Protest Lockout Laws

Thousands of music fans have rallied in two Australian states protesting lockout laws in entertainment precincts that saw the closure of major live music venues and bars.

Protests took place Sept. 18 on the Gold Coast, Airlie Beach and Fortitude Valley in Queensland. The state government plans to introduce a raft of laws this year that will include no sale of expensive shots after midnight, no new customers to enter venues after 1 a.m. and a 3 a.m. closure.

The live industry warns that knee-jerk responses to alcohol violence in precincts is a vote-catcher, but that the problem will be solved only through education and more police presence.

The government responded to the protests by saying it wouldn’t back down. Rod Schneider of Safe Night Out said the protests would continue, adding, “We’re going to start targeting MPs (members of Parliament) in marginal seats – especially those with young electorates. We believe there are plenty of MPs out there who don’t believe in the lockout, however they are being forced to toe the line.” Queensland venues are worried by a downturn of business in New South Wales, where similar laws were enacted following two deaths caused by drunken assaults.

Up to 16 major venues in the Sydney central business district (CBD) – including Hugo’s Lounge with a loss of 170 jobs, Trademark Hotel, The Backroom, Soho, Flinder’s Bar and Q Bar – have closed since the introduction of the laws February 2014.

While government statistics show a reduction in assaults in the CBD, they rose by 18 percent in nearby areas like Newtown where revelers relocate after 3 a.m. Unauthorised all-night raves in unsafe warehouses have cashed in as a result. Up to 3,000 marched in Sydney in a Sept. 13 protest organised by Reclaim the Streets. They carried banners demanding “Unlock Sydney” and “We Want Our City Back.” Said Jack London, an organiser, “We need smarter responses to this social and cultural problem than treating the entire state like children.”

There is also anger that the Star casino complex is exempt from the laws. Meanwhile, the Canberra Times reported lobby groups are pressuring to introduce similar legislation in the Australian Capital Territory, and the Australian capital city of Canberra. The ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance, which includes the Australian Drug Foundation and Australian Medical Association, said hospitals reported a 24 percent increase in alcohol-related injuries in the past three years. Forty-eight venues in Canberra are allowed to stay open as late as 5 a.m.