As midnight arrived on Monday, there was little sign of life on the streets of Sydney’s CBD with the annual post-Christmas hangover in full swing.
And while January 14 clicked over with little but a murmur, the significance of the date may in years to come be recognised as the moment Sydney’s nightlife was handed the lifeline it so desperately needed.
It heralds the official beginning of the stripped back lockout laws which have endured a controversial six years across the city following their introduction in 2014 after a series of fatal acts of alcohol-fuelled violence, including the death of Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross.
“Today we are ready to move on from the lockouts and allow Sydney’s nightlife to flourish once again,” Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore announced.
Hospitality mogul Justin Hemmes agreed, telling Yahoo News Australia in a statement he and others within the industry “have a chance to create a vibrant future and rebuild our city to the world class destination we once were, and can be again.”
Once bank balances have recovered from the financial burden of the festive period and those partaking in Dry January are well and finished with their alcohol detox, numbers of patrons in the CBD are expected to slowly rise as a relaxation of the laws will “breathe oxygen” into its nightlife, according to Ms Moore.
What lockout law changes are being made?
The changes are being made after prolonged and widespread condemnation from the public and the hospitality industry itself, which has taken a huge financial hit since the introduction of the laws.
Hemmes, whose group Merivale owns more than 40 venues in the CBD, said the laws had turned Sydney into “a ghost town” at August’s NSW parliamentary inquiry into the state of the city’s nightlife economy.
After NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian succumbed to mounting pressure to have the laws stripped back, the state government implemented several key changes when it came to drinking.
Of most significance was the removal of the 1.30am last entry law, meaning patrons can move freely between venues before they close.
That closing time has also been pushed back a further 30 minutes to 3.30am for venues who have and maintain a “good record”, which translates as venues without adverse compliance history over the past three years.
Patrons will also be allowed to buy cocktails and drinks with more than 30ml of liquor in them beyond 12pm, meaning doubles are once again allowed.
Shots are also available for purchase once again after midnight.
Drinks will also be allowed to be served in glass all night.
When it comes to the sale of alcohol at bottle shops, the latest customers can purchase drink has been pushed back to midnight from 10pm from Monday to Saturday. Sunday trading will cease at 11pm.
The changes will be reviewed in 12 months’ time.
While the lockout laws are being welcomed across Sydney, Kings Cross, which has seen a strong decrease in visitors since the laws were introduced, will not benefit from the changes and laws will still be in effect.
A further assessment of the area will be completed within 12 months’ time “taking into account diversity of venues and saturation of high impact venues”.
A freeze on new liquor licences for large venues remains in place until June when a review will take place.
First night trouble free
NSW Police say there were no reports of alcohol-fuelled violence in Sydney's CBD as the laws officially ended overnight.
Emergency service groups have voiced concerns that repealing them will now lead to spikes in alcohol-fuelled violence.
But a NSW Police spokeswoman on Tuesday confirmed the first night was incident-free and "nothing happened" in the CBD.
NSW Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said the decision to repeal the lockout laws in mid-January was made to give venue owners time to plan for the new regulations.
“There's been a cultural shift in the city's nightlife since 2014 and it's time to look towards a bright, safe, diverse Sydney after dark," Mr Ayres said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Sydney is Australia's only truly global city and can evolve to embrace an economy which is cranking around the clock."
However Health Services Union NSW secretary Gerard Hayes warned the Berejiklian government had re-opened the "floodgates on Sydney's rivers of grog".
"Alcohol causes more harm to more Australians than any other drug," he said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Without any doubt, there will be more people assaulted, more people hurt, and more lives damaged by winding back these sensible restrictions on the supply of alcohol at night."
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