Cautious optimism. That’s how Sydney’s long-suffering night owls are treating the recent announcement from NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian on a scaling-back of the city’s draconian lockout laws.

It’s been a long time coming. And, certainly, Berejiklian’s decision represents a softening of her hardline stance. Night economy advocates have pushed hard for an end to the CBD restrictions, but no one’s popping the champagne corks just yet. There’s more work to be done.

Almost 800 submissions were delivered to the NSW Government’s Sydney’s Night Time Economy inquiry, with a report from these expected to be issued to parliament on Sept. 30.

The inquiry heard, among other concerns, that 500,000 fewer under-35s were visiting Sydney each year and that the number of venues dedicated to live music had been cut by half in the years since the laws were activated.

Keep Sydney Open, established in 2014 as a reaction and a protest to what many saw as the-then Baird government’s knee-jerk reaction to alcohol fuelled violence, characterises the situation as a “huge moment” for Sydney, though many details remain unclear. Kings Cross has a question mark above it the size of the Coca Cola sign.

The repeal of the CBD lockouts is solid first step, explains Michael Rodrigues, chair of the Night Time Industries Association, which represent a diverse range of stakeholders and venues from across hospitality, entertainment, the arts and culture sectors and other commercial businesses with an interest in the night time economy.

If it's possible to remove the lockouts in the massive CBD and much longer Oxford Street, what's the deal with the…

Posted by Keep Sydney Open Party onTuesday, 10 September 2019

With any first step, there are potential pitfalls.

Rodrigues, who established the NTIA last year to “promote Sydney as a vibrant and creative city, and to build a new, positive narrative” for the city, isn’t getting carried away.

TIO caught up with Rodrigues for a look at things to come.

Michael Rodrigues
Michael Rodrigues

What do you make of Gladys Berejiklian’s announcement?

You’ve got to take it as a good announcement. But it should be interpreted as the first step in a conversation rather than a full stop. It’s ‘to be continued.’ Getting rid of lockouts in the CBD is one of many things that we think needs to happen, really. Thinking about the lockout in Kings Cross is one example.

There’s a whole bunch of things that we think are needed to get things moving in Sydney. They include getting rid of certain government departments regulating noise. It’s been a long time coming for people who have been campaigning. It’s good.

There has been a lot of coverage about the lockout laws being scrapped. But that’s not entirely accurate. As you mentioned, the rules still apply to Kings Cross. It’s an unwinding of some of the lockout laws.

To be clear, nothing has actually changed as of today. It’s linked to a longer process, a parliamentary report that’s due Sept. 30 and presumably legislation that would be put forward would be debated in October, November, when parliament sits.

It’s a signalling from the premier that change is coming. It’s all open to interpretation. That’s our worst case, that we would no longer have lockouts in the city. But what about all the other things we want?

How bad did it get with the lockouts?

It’s lies, damn lies and statistics. From my perspective, and my background is running Time Out for 13 years in Sydney, I’ve seen firsthand the decline of Sydney’s nightlife and data points to this more recently are contained in the ‘Time Out Global City Index’ which had Sydney fairing quite badly.

In the recent inquiry, the data assembled on this is growing really. It all paints a picture. There was the Deloitte report which indicates the underperformance in the night time economy as being $16 billion annually, it’s quite a lot.

Some of our members have seen venues closing, revenues declining over those five years, and comparative growth in Melbourne. One of standout case studies is the Mushroom Group, who put on an immersive cinema performance of Dirty Dancing. They’re on the record as saying half the number of people attended in Sydney, it cost $500,000 more than in Melbourne so they’re not coming back next year, they’re going to Brisbane. It’s rock bottom, and the only way is up.

What will a Sydney without lockout laws look like?We know that Kings Cross won’t be the same again, which is why we demand any removal of the lockouts to include the Cross as well.

Posted by Keep Sydney Open Party onMonday, 9 September 2019

What would you like to see happen next?

We’re hopeful the parliamentary report that comes out Sept. 30 will contain a number of recommendations consistent with what we’ve been asking for in the inquiry.

A key in there is the commitment from government that puts night time economy firmly on the premier’s list of priorities. And makes it central to the economic development of Sydney and New South Wales.

And then, accompanying that, we believe a government structure, like an office of night life is needed to ensure that vision is delivered. Accompanying that would be some type of night time champion, not necessarily a mayor but someone within government who is made accountable for it. They’re the big ones we’re hoping to see.

And there’s a bunch of other things, which would put everyone to sleep, like improvements to planning law and elimination of certain government departments regulating noise. It’s just a clean-up to make it easy to do business in New South Wales.

It was interesting to note, when Gladys spoke to the press on the weekend she made a comment that Sydney is the only global city in Australia. It seemed inflammatory for other major cities like Melbourne or Brisbane. And for her to say that while supporting five-year-long restrictive measures in the centre of the city, it didn’t weigh up (the Economist Intelligence Unit’s new Global Liveability Index ranks Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in the top 10, and Perth at No. 14).

Why would we only want Australia to have one global city? Surely we want all our cities to be flourishing and well-regarded globally. Everyone has their own view on it, but I believe a stronger Melbourne builds a stronger Sydney.

The music industry will be better across the nation if the touring circuit can be rebuilt in Sydney. That’s only good for Australian music. I try not to get into that, I just want Sydney to be the best it can be.