The fight over Sydney’s liquor industry is well and truly on, with local venue and bar operators in Kings Cross accusing the government of bad policy claiming the crackdown will cost them over $1 million a month in lost revenue.
The issue came to a head following the death of teenager Thomas Kelly in a senseless attack in Sydney’s King Cross in July, the issue of alcohol-related violence has become a political platform for pokie-lined pub venues and politicians alike.
New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell quickly assembled a task force to look into the issue of escalating violence in Kings Cross, with his hospitality minister pointing the finger at small bars and venues claiming they have “a lower level of surveillance, a lower level of supervision, a lower level of compliance”, adding that pokies venues “are better policed, better supervised than those smaller venues”.
The Premier is also keen to reintroduce either a 1am or 2am lock out in the CBD, supported by the Foundation For Alcohol Research, despite the attack on Thomas Kelly occurring early in the evening and unrelated to any licensed venues in the area.
In the meantime, O’Farrell has introduced a ban on the sale of shots and ready-to-drink beverages late night inside 58 venues, along with glass of any kind.
Also part of the new restrictions, on Friday and Saturday nights venues will not be able to sell alcohol in the hour before closing, and two responsible service of alcohol marshals will have to be rostered on if trading after 11pm.
The move comes at a fragile time for Sydney’s music community, with the increased regulations and falling patron numbers creating a perfect storm that could drastically change the future outlook for the remaining music venues.
The changes to the sale of alcohol and the rostering of ‘alcohol marshals’ will alone cost at least $8000 a month per restaurant or bar, said Kings Cross business owners, but will do little to curb drunken fights in the area who claim the new rules will send sales plummeting.
“The government is not going to solve the problem with security on the streets of Kings Cross from behind my bar,” one angry operator told The Daily Telegraph. “It will not be solved by forcing me to serve $21 Manhattans in a plastic cup, but by stopping 18-year-olds from drinking four litres of wine from plastic bags out the front of it.”
Operators were keen to hear the evidence behind the government’s move, but the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) had been less than forthcoming, citing ‘secret data’ that validates the Government’s crackdown.
After previous attempts to see the data were stopped by the OLGR, Kings Cross pub operator Solotel took the government to court last week and won an injunction against the laws, including the right to see the supporting evidence.
The NSW Supreme Court agreed with Solotel that in the interest of fairness the documents, described in court as secret data, should be made available. Solotel operate a number of venues including the Kings Cross Hotel which is home to the popular live music venue FBi Social.
“If OLGR’s decisions are to be based on facts, why wouldn’t they release this important information?” said Andrew Gibbs, Solotel CEO told The Shout.
“We believe that regulatory decisions about the Kings Cross area should be based on all the available evidence, such as the fact that assaults in Kings Cross have dropped a dramatic 37 per cent over the past few years.”
In the meantime, operators have launched the We Love Kings Cross campaign which saw more than 800 venue staff wear “We Love Kings Cross” T-shirts over the weekend.
The Kings Cross Liquor Accord who are coordinating the campaign are calling for more police, a zero-tolerance approach to violence and more night transport options. They’ve also urged patrons to complain to Mr O’Farrell’s office about the crackdown.