sorry we copy

Rational thought locked out

If you’ve been following the news recently, you’ll have noticed a bit of backlash towards Sydney’s lockout laws citing the decimation of the city’s nightlife culture. Despite the well publicised criticism, in even more recent news, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk managed to pass even harsher lockout laws which will come into effect mid-2016.

There are many words I have to describe these laws: draconian comes to mind… incompetent, unfair, demagogic, oppressive, subjective, anti-libertarian… but most importantly, IRRATIONAL.

This is clearly an opinion piece, so I must admit the scope of my perspective before I get started with this rant. I am fairly social and I’ve had my fair share of 5am finishes. I often go out most Saturdays, but I’m getting older (currently 24), and my late nights have been steadily declining, with an average finish time of 2:30am now. While these laws affect my lifestyle directly, it’ll probably only be for a short while longer. So no cause for concern, right? Wrong. Instead, my passion for this debate comes from a much deeper place; it stems from my love of culture and being social, but especially from my capacity for rational thought. This is not a politically-minded argument – I’m not writing with partiality towards a certain political party or agenda – this is an argument formed by my own construct of logic and comprehension of the issues at hand.

I also understand that these laws come as a result of a string of violent attacks and a number of one-punch assaults in nightlife hubs, both in Sydney and Brisbane. I am in no way condoning such actions and I do believe that something needs to be done to prevent them, but nothing I’ve heard or read about the lockout laws appears to address that problem. I’ll explain why shortly. I also acknowledge that I do not have a counter solution to this problem, but this is not an issue that is fixed with isolated, undemocratic, hasty thinking. This is community issue, a cultural issue, and shouldn’t be used as part of a political agenda or considered an easy-fix, small-legislative issue.

With that out of the way, let’s set some context, starting with…

Sydney: a ‘vibrant’ ghost town

This year I visited Sydney for a weekend with some friends to attend the Sydney 7s rugby competition. We arrived at our hotel in Darlinghurst, just near King’s Cross, on Friday night at around 10:30pm and were keen to get a drink somewhere. Restaurants and bars on our street were closing, so we ventured to Surrey Hills to a busy bar, only to be told by the security guard that they were shutting at midnight. We had a drink and were eventually ushered out 45 mins later. A local friend of ours told us that a place in Double Bay was our best option, so we made the 10- to 15-minute taxi journey there. This place closed at 2am so we eventually cut our losses and were back in the hotel room by 2:30am. Saturday night was the same story and Sunday, even worse. You are forced to travel lengths of the city to find places that will stay open long enough for you to have a good time. While there are some great bars in Sydney, the nightlife is sleepy and uneven. Any sense of vibrancy the entertainment precincts once had is now prosaic, time-restricted and separated by big distances.

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‘Vibrant’ is the word chosen by NSW premier Mike Baird to describe the current state of the city’s nightlife, and I can tell you, it is anything but. In a Facebook statement defending the laws, Mike chose to pompously and baselessly label his city “more vibrant than ever”, citing anecdotal claims. Now I don’t know who Mike is talking to to get his hearsay evidence, but judging by the response, people were not happy with a 47-year-old non-partying politician telling them that their nightlife was ‘vibrant’. This assertion – alongside a bunch of cherry-picked facts about decreases in violence in ‘certain areas’ of Sydney with no mention of increased violence in casino areas (exempt from lockout laws) – rightly angered a lot of people. But you don’t need to hear about a Brisbanite’s weekend travels to find that out, you can read the abundance of think pieces and commentaries out there by journalists and musicians.

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Initial backlash started with famous DJs and musicians that hail from Sydney as well as columnist Matt Barrie, who claims that Sydney has lost its reputation as one of the best cities in the world. Alison Wonderland also talked about Sydney’s international reputation becoming an embarrassment. Flight Facilities and The Preatures vehemently protested the laws and the destruction of Sydney’s culture and businesses (check out some before and after pictures here), also questioning the immunity given to casinos. The hashtag #casinomike was spawned by level-headed people recognising that there was inconsistency in the laws, essentially calling out Mike Baird for his contradictory position. The Premier has lost the respect of youth and the entertainment industry. Sydney has lost its reputation as an internationally vibrant city.
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The most compelling argument, however, belongs to Gang of Youth’s frontman Dave Le’aupepe. He tears the issue apart with a brilliantly eccentric vocabulary, condensing the problem as a threat against liberty and a signpost of legislative deceit. Read his full essay here.

“I hope that none of us forget that huge and egregious abuses of legislative power start from efforts of small and duplicitous kinds of lawmaking. Like this.” – Dave Le’aupepe

I can’t sum this issue up better than they already have, so please read these articles if you’d like to know more. It seems as though it’s a case of attempting to cure the disease by killing the patient. Long story short, the laws have turned Sydney into a ghost town – even Sticky Fingers sang about it:

Queensland: the sunshine nanny state

You would think that the animated adverse reaction of Sydney’s youth, nightlife and entertainment communities would perhaps prompt Queensland lawmakers to carefully reconsider and open discussions for their own planned lockout laws?

Nope.

Just like that, the laws passed on February 17 without any reconsideration or reasoning broadcasted to the public. They also happen to be the strictest in the country.

So why did the approval of these laws get rushed through so fleetingly? In the wake of a number of violent alcohol-fuelled attacks and even deaths in Queensland, the public was calling for action, and rightly so. Something had to be done to make the streets safer and to curb this culture of violence. So the Government decided to introduce similar lockout laws to those enacted in Sydney in an effort to demonstrate ‘taking action’. But these laws reek of demagogy and fearmongering – manipulating the public’s emotions in order to gain power and popularity for Authority and the issue at hand.

It’s worth mentioning that the Government that introduced these laws is a left-wing Labor Government that highly values workers’ rights in all policy-making. It’s funny then that they are introducing legislation that will terminate an estimated 6,000 jobs as well as costing the Queensland economy $150 million. Annastacia Palaszczuk believes that attacking the hospitality industry is an attack on workers’ financial security, and then introduces a bill that contradicts that very belief and the principles of the political party she leads. Well, Miss Palaszczuk, it’s paradoxical and it’s just not fair. Double standards.

This sort of irrational thinking extends much further when you consider how the laws will actually affect entertainment districts like Fortitude Valley. Coming from someone who regularly visits this area on Saturday nights, it just doesn’t make sense. Here’s why:

Alcohol restrictions

I can somewhat understand why this is deemed necessary, but that doesn’t mean it will solve the problem. Sure, shots are fun and can get you in the mood to party pretty quick, but extravagant drinking like this after midnight can be seen as excessive. However, laws that target violence because of excessive alcohol consumption should be dealt with in a different way. If excessive alcohol makes a person violent, they were already violent to begin with. That’s a psychological issue. The majority of a population can get drunk and not become violent, so why should violent behaviour be an indicator of excessive alcohol consumption? This is a cultural problem, not one that the hospitality industry should suffer through because of.

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Many bars and clubs rely on revenue from shots and spirits and many pride themselves on the enjoyment of alcohol appreciation, like whisky bars. I would like the freedom to be able to order a single malt whisky from a bar after midnight without having to taint it with mixers. This freedom is being taken away from me and many others because of a cultural problem with violence, not a hospitality problem with serving alcohol. Stricter RSA (responsible service of alcohol) requirements? Sure. More training for bar owners and bartenders? Absolutely. Inhibiting the freedom of an entire state’s population to purchase certain types of alcohol between certain hours? Oppressive, and demonstrates a complete lack of trust. In fact, the laws treat us all like a bunch of delinquent children.

Lockout hours

You can try and force people to go out earlier and go home earlier, but you cannot change partying lifestyles. There are two types of late partiers; those that go out until about 2-3am in the morning, and the 5am-ers. Our current laws weed out these groups gradually; bars and clubs noticeably and steadily decrease in patrons between 2am and 5am. By bringing closing time forward by a couple of hours, larger masses of people will be forced onto the streets earlier that they want to and the 2-3am groups of partiers and the 5am partiers will be on the curbside at the same time. This will create increased burden on the taxi/uber systems and with no night-time public transport available it could potentially even choke these systems, leaving many intoxicated people waiting for cabs or wandering the streets. Suddenly you’ve got more people in an unsafe environment, in danger of cars on the road, or drunk angry people not wanting to go home – placing more pressure on police. Our current trading hours allow people that may be a danger to themselves and others to remain within a regulated environment, surrounded by security guards and security cameras. Why would you want these people out on the streets when you could protect patrons and prevent violence within a controlled variable setting?

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This is a very hypothetical and circumstantial argument, but it’s based on a consistent six-year knowledge of and participation in Brisbane’s partying lifestyle and nightlife. If you’ve ever been out in Brisbane, you’d understand the likelihood of these circumstances – they make sense, this is rational thinking. What doesn’t make sense is attempting to reduce alcohol-fuelled violence by placing time restrictions on entertainment venues. A violent attack can happen at any time of day or night, in fact one of Queensland’s one-punch victims was attacked at 10pm – a time when most people are arriving in entertainment precincts – and even his mother opposes the new laws. Moving the lockout time forward by a couple of hours doesn’t necessarily mean people are safer from violence. It could mean the opposite, with more people on the streets after lockout and limited ways of getting home.

This is a curfew that inhibits the lifestyle of an entire portion of the population, enforced by an out-of-touch older generation with very little connection to such lifestyle. These laws target the 0.02% of violent thugs on Queensland streets by punishing an entire industry & the remaining 99.98% of Queensland’s party-goers, the vast majority of which are well-behaved and conscientious citizens. Why should an entire generation and future generations be disciplined for the misconducts of a few in the interest of public safety? The politicians of Queensland are essentially treating all of its citizens like alcohol-addicted, irresponsible, violent hooligans – in a way, it’s a case of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ rather than the other way around. These laws are a giant middle finger directed towards the responsible citizens of Queensland that have done nothing wrong to deserve such distrust.

But, guess what? Casinos are exempt.

casinomike.pngYep, if you’d like to keep drinking and partying past lockout hours, you can go to the casino and be tempted to gamble away your paycheck on the roulette tables. After all, Australia has a serious gambling problem with the highest gambling losses per adult in the world. Is there violence at the casinos? You bet there is. So why are casinos allowed to operate ‘business as usual’? Well because when the casinos start to see profits increase with the introduction of lockout laws, so too will the state’s revenue that comes off the top. If something smells fishy, that’s because it is. But politicians will continue to dodge this subject or ignore/fudge statistics when reporting on reductions in crime since enacting lockout laws. It’s no wonder Mike Baird earned his nickname #casinomike, and soon Miss Palaszczuk will have hers: #casinoanna.

Queensland’s politicians have created a nanny state with good intentions but the wrong actions, attempting to keep every person safe by reducing basic freedoms. It starts with something small like this but we must make sure that it doesn’t open the floodgates for more abuses of legislative power. Dave Le’aupepe’s words should be repeated here:

“I hope that none of us forget that huge and egregious abuses of legislative power start from efforts of small and duplicitous kinds of lawmaking. Like this.” – Dave Le’aupepe

These laws aim to tackle violent crimes, but in actual fact they should be viewed as crimes against liberty and rational thinking. It sounds dramatic, but shouldn’t we expect better of the people that govern our society?


If you’d like to know more about this issue, visit Our Nightlife QLD for all related information and any action you can help take.

© Harrison Forth, 2016.

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