Lockout laws put to the test

Sydney's nightclubbing district was unusually quiet and incident-free on Friday night after the O'Farrell government's nightclub lockout laws came into effect this week, however Kings Cross business owners, including nightclub mogul John Ibrahim, felt the sting.

Extra police patrolled the area, with most patrons willing to comply with the new laws, which include 1.30am venue lockouts and no alcohol served after 3am.

Mr Ibrahim believes the laws will seriously impact business owners in the area.

“It's ridiculous that a venue in Parramatta or even Bondi can stay open later than a Kings Cross venue. This is the hub of Sydney's nightlife,” he said.

Mr Ibrahim said the new laws were a rushed solution, which should have been implemented more gradually.

“I understand they didn't have the luxury of time here, but you need to give people time to adjust – business owners, police, patrons, transport services and so on – otherwise it's just not going to be effective,” he said.

Mr Ibrahim doubted the new laws would be effective at combating alcohol-fuelled violence.

“They're punishing the whole suburb for the actions of a small minority and using the deaths of those two boys as a lightning rod to enforce these changes,” he said.

“But those boys were hit at 9.30pm, not 1.30am – and that violence occurred in unlit streets, not in a licensed venue, where there are security guards and RSA trained staff around.”

Instead Mr Ibrahim backed a “user-pays” police system, whereby business owners – rather than taxpayers – would fund the cost of having extra police deployed in the area on weekends. He also said lockout laws were unnecessary during the week, when the nightlife district was quiet.

Staff at popular Kings Cross strip bar, Dream Girls, estimated they would lose somewhere between $5000-6000 in revenue over the weekend as a result of the new laws.

“If we have a group come in before 1.30 who aren't spending any money, and don't get any other big groups in before the lockout time, then we won't make any money after that time,” one Dream Girls waitress said.

Despite the business owner concerns, bouncers from various nightspots said most hotel patrons were cooperative with the new laws.

“You always get a few people who want to start an argument, thinking you can personally override the rules, but most patrons understood the lockout rules are out of our hands,” security guard George Taulapapa said.

Among the disappointed partygoers, were French tourists Clement, Guillame and Josh, who were left to loiter the streets after leaving a venue unaware of the lockout curfew.

“In France the nightclubs stay open until five or six o' clock, so I was surprised to see the lockout here is so early,” 20-year-old Clement said.

“It's a shame but what can you do, we'll know for next time.”

NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Murdoch said police had observed a high level of compliance to the new laws by licenced venues on Friday night, but acknowledged the Mardi Gras parade on Saturday night would put the new measures to the test. Extra police would be patrolling the streets, he said.

Of the 97 licenced venues inspected overnight only one had breached the laws, he said.

Licencees who did not comply with the new rules faced "significant" penalties, including an $11,000 fine or 12 months in jail, said assistance commissioner Murdoch at a press conference on Saturday morning.

"There's too much at stake for non-compliance," he said.

The story Lockout laws put to the test first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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