Bernard Keane: Sydney's lockout laws are based on lies

On Sunday, thousands of people marched in Sydney against the NSW Government’s lockout laws, in a protest organised by the organisation Keep Sydney Open. Keep Sydney Open estimated the event drew 15,000, while NSW Police say it was closer to 5000.

Crikey Politics Editor Bernard Keane delivered the following speech to the crowd.

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There’s a simple reason why Sydney now has these stupid, appalling lockout laws that have crushed businesses, cut wages and jobs for people in hospitality, musicians and cabbies, and turned much of the early morning city into a ghost-town.

It’s because over the summer of 2013-14 two newspapers, The Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald, ran an hysterical campaign about alcohol-related violence in Sydney. And it’s because NSW politicians didn’t have the courage to stand up to this hysterical campaign.

If you believed The Telegraph and The Herald back then, and the nanny state types, and the public health lobby that wants to turn alcohol into the new tobacco, Sydney was in the grip of an epidemic of alcohol-fueled violence and the streets of this city were awash with blood and grog. And something had to be done.

But if you look at the facts, you’ll realise this was a campaign based on lies.

We’re always told we’re in the grip of an alcohol epidemic. In fact in 2014 we drank less alcohol per head than at any time since 1963. Between 2007 and the lockout laws, Australians’ alcohol consumption fell by 10%, says the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Same story with binge drinking. Know how the media and politicians are always going on about the scourge of young people binge drinking? According to the most authoritative health survey in the country by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, binge drinking among young people has fallen massively in the last fifteen years. The only people who are binge drinking more now than in 2001 are people over 40. Maybe those scary binge drinking ads should be aimed at middle aged people.

And while alcohol consumption was falling, violence on the streets of Sydney was falling even faster. Between 2007 and the start of the lockout laws, non-domestic violence assaults had fallen over 20% in the city of Sydney. And that’s the number of assaults – during that time the population of greater Sydney grew by around 10%.

In fact, every category of violent crime has been falling in Sydney in the years before the lockout laws were introduced, except for two. Domestic violence assaults, and sexual assaults. The reports of both have been rising year on year, every year.

Funnily enough I don’t recall a media campaign about these crimes where the great majority of victims are women and kids. I don’t recall the media pushing for the NSW police to direct more resources to domestic violence and enforcing AVOs, rather than playing winelist cop in Paddington. And I don’t recall politicians talking about changing the law to make it easier to prosecute rapists and force them to spend longer in jail.

I wonder why – I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with the fact the it’s women who bear the brunt of those crimes. This is what happens when you get policies based on fear and hysteria. It means real problems, the problems that politicians and the police should be dealing with, get pushed aside.

I also wonder why Star Casino is excluded from the lockout laws. I’m sure that’s got nothing to do with the fact that from 2008, Star gave over $600,000 in donations to Labor and the Coalition in NSW. Not in a state with such a strong reputation for probity and corruption-free politics.

Fear and hysteria is what dud politicians and declining media companies have in common. If they can keep people afraid, they can sell more papers and boost ratings, and get more people to vote for them. And while they’re frightened, they won’t notice that their most basic rights are being taken away, that there’s a chilling effect coming down on where they live, that the most simple things they take for granted, like the right to go out and enjoy themselves, is suddenly a quasi-criminal activity that needs to be policed. Whether it’s the war on terror, or the war on drugs, or Sydney’s very own war on enjoying yourself, it’s always our basic freedoms going out the door.

And the great thing about today’s turn-out is that every single person here is saying they won’t be fooled by fear and hysteria and they will will resist these attempts to seize their freedoms. Thanks.

16 responses to “Bernard Keane: Sydney's lockout laws are based on lies

  1. Free speech is treasured by those who bandy the words around. BK is a journalist and picks up a wage for his words. Nothing free there. Each word and though paid for by a capitalist boss. Why should we believe his “facts, %ages, stats any more than those of others who give a non paid for opinion. We can read but as we all think that perhaps only a %age (lol) of what you read is based on truth. So the articles of this BK journalist should be taken in context. He is paid for his opinion and there fore prone to embellishment. His stories would have little impact otherwise. Truth, side tracked for the story.
    Free speech highly regarded by these wage collecting journos is poo pooed when others exercise that right. Even if considered left wing or wrong anyone has a right to exercise free speech without the fear of being sued e.g. David L and Sarah H Y. Both loud mouths and aggressive and capable of ranting and raving as with Bk and his journalistic style. Free speech does not work one way in the favour of the so called aggrieved. Sarah H Y has always fed on the attention and will continue to do so as long as there is a camera and a willing ear. She was demoted in her party for a reason.

  2. Nobody will read this comment, but here goes…BK I think you are wrong, and I will read your other opinion pieces but take them with a grain of salt from now on.

    KC is a hole and the last thing it needs is more grog. If people want more grog they can go home and drink it or do it privately at friends houses etc. This reduces the likelihood of senseless moronic crowd fighting and glassings and king hits from behind, etc. The way people are carrying on you’d think it was prohibition being suggested.

    Ask the people who live around there. They love it now. The strip is a hole and the words “Kings cross” and “fun” are never used in the same sentence except sarcastically.

  3. If we’re talking statistics, consider that if you are the one who is king-hit by some drunken fool and die, the strike rate for you is 100%. While I don’t disagree with all of the sentiments expressed in the article, I do object to the deaths and serious injuries being swept conveniently under the rug of broad-based statistics – if you get killed in King’s Cross, knowing that Australians are now drinking 10% less alcohol isn’t going to make it any easier for your family. Perhaps your energy would be better spent on thinking about ways to deal with the few fools who end up resorting to such violence and then lock-out laws wouldn’t be considered necessary.

  4. Regardless of whether 5000 or 15000 people marched against the lock-out law, my first thought was: What – THIS is what motivates people to rally in the streets?! Asylum-seekers and recognised refugees are being sent to Nauru and Manus Island, the small number of Syrian refugees we so generously promised to take in are still being kept in some horrid camps overseas, we’ve got data retention laws, a woeful environmental policy, a government without much of a policy at all, yet these issues don’t get thousands of Sydneysiders off their arses. It’s the threat of loosing the boozing that does it. Hat off to all you marchers.

  5. Does nobody remember that Melbourne’s newspapers ran the exact same “alcohol-fuelled violence” campaigns between 2008 and 2010 that led to lockout laws down here? When I read about Sydney it all feels like déjà vu. Those laws failed, and if Sydneysiders keep up the pressure, hopefully yours will too.

    (The result of our laws, by the way, was an increase in “alcohol-fuelled violence”: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/drunken-bashings-up-despite-booze-campaign-20110806-1igod.html)

  6. Bernard Keane’s arguments are spurious, and unworthy of him.

    Statewide statistics reveal nothing about the frequency or severity of violence in specific CBD areas.

    Live music in Australia suffered irreperable harm due to widespread introduction of pokies.

    The campaign is driven by the Australian Hoteliers Association – the same lobby group that has consistently prevented any measures to mitigate the damage caused by all those pokies.

  7. I endorse Dr Letts’s comment. The clinical people at St Vincent’s (and elsewhere — including, by the way, in Newcastle) — who, night after night, week after week, have to deal with the consequences of excessive consumption of alcohol, tell a very different story. And I know which group I’d believe.

    Keane has little grasp of statistics — overall nation-wide or state-wide “Statistics” are irrelevant to what happens in specific areas — notably in sordid Kings Cross.

    Furthermore, when did almost unrestricted access to alcohol (and its undisciplined consumption) become indices of sophistication or a lively lifestyle?

    However the most disturbing aspect of Keane’s self-interested little effort is this? He seems unconcerned about compromising his objectivity and credibility as a journalist by making such a public speech and then publishing it in what purports to be a serious e-newspaper. This is a political matter on which he’s blatantly campaigning — yet styles himself a “Political Editor”. He can’t have it both ways. Either he becomes an advocate (as he has done) or he remains a political journalist,

  8. “There’s a simple reason why Sydney now has these stupid, appalling lockout laws that have crushed businesses, cut wages and jobs for people in hospitality, musicians and cabbies, and turned much of the early morning city into a ghost-town.”

    But this is also anecdotal and a little bit bullshit BK, as the street figures were apparently running down prior to the lockout laws, and maybe they are just facing some social changes that were already hitting and the lockout laws are a convenient excuse.

    Personally, I can’t see how not being able to enter ANOTHER club or bar after 1.30 am is such a problem. Jesus, go out, have a drink and go home sometime before dawn, is it so hard.

    There’s a lot of bullshit coming out over this debate, and not all from one side. Most of it doesn’t pass the pub test, even when the pub is full of drunks.

    What is indisputable is the effect on hospital emergency rooms and ambulance work. Hard to argue with that, even if the coward punches were delivered earlier in the night.

    Average alcohol imbibing is not that relevant, and perhaps the issue is having the same dim-witted binge drinkers all in the one place at the one time.

    I can’t work it out anyway, the Cross was always a hole that any self-respecting person knew that it meant you had had a shit night out. Local pubs and music venues, does anybody go to the Cross for a good time? Really?

    1. “Personally, I can’t see how not being able to enter ANOTHER club or bar after 1.30 am is such a problem. Jesus, go out, have a drink and go home sometime before dawn, is it so hard.”

      Well said. It is just your personal opinion. There are 50.000 of people who signed KEEP SYDNEY OPEN petition and they disagree with you. So you and NSW government should respect their opinion and needs.

    2. So if doesn’t effect you, why do you care so much? Hey, do you know what else doesn’t pass the pub test? People who use the line “it doesn’t pass the pub test”.

  9. This is all very interesting. But if Keane is going to cover all the facts, what about the reports from the nearby hospitals like St Vinnie’s that say, as I recall, that the number of late night casualties has halved since the new regulations were imposed. State-wide statistics do not necessarily reveal local circumstances.

    1. Late night casualties may have halved, but numbers of people out have dropped by over 80%, meaning that casualties have actually increased. All at the expense of hundreds of jobs and a vibrant night life.

    2. Foot traffic has dropped significantly since the lockout laws. In fact, for those still in the city during these times, you are actually more likely to become a victim of violence.

      Violence in other areas have increased. The problem hasn’t been fixed. It’s been diverted.

      Violence at the Star has actually increased since 2013, even though it was declining in other areas.

  10. There is also something sitting oddly in Crown donating heavily to the Thomas Kelly Foundation that campaigns so strongly for the lockouts. But that aside, the exclusion of Star (and Packer’s coming casino) from the lockout zone is appalling.

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