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on the floor tackles sydney’s nightlife

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

It was a dark and stormy night but Belvoir Street Theatre was at full capacity for the inaugural On the Floor panel discussion in Sydney on Tuesday. The joint project by fashion brand/protest outfit House of Riot and youth non-profit Vibewire aims to start a conversation on pressing political issues in the lead up to the next federal election.

The first instalment tackled the sweeping changes introduced by the lock-out laws which changed the face of Sydney’s nightlife:

‘With the newly imposed lock-out laws, smoking, license and live music restriction and of course the standard drug laws, Sydney’s cultural nightlife is changing, and fast. What’s it going to look like in 4 years – and what would we want it to look like?’

The panel was a balanced mix of for and against, moderated by Triple J’s Tom Tilley. It’s fair to say that the audience wasn’t exactly on the side of Scott Weber or Samantha Morris, who represented NSW Police and the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing respectively. They stated their cases valiantly in front of an audience of venue owners, musicians, and organisers who had been directly impacted by what many feel are draconian law changes.

In the against camp were Jess Scully, a cultural jack-of-all-trades, Tyson Koh from Keep Sydney Open and Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong. They argued that the cultural impact of the laws has decimated the city’s nightlife, effectively punishing everyone for the crimes of a few. Iconic venues are closing. Laissez-fare Newtown is inundated with ragers from the Kings Cross diaspora. The police are more likely to arrest you than help you, and to nobody’s surprise people still want to drink themselves into the next day.

So, in light of this, what is the purpose of the lock-out laws? Are they actually making people safer or are they a punitive quick-fix that masks the actual problem at the root of alcohol-related tragedies: cultural violence.

An interesting discrepancy in the debate came from Scott Weber and Samantha Morris who pointed out that the lock out laws were an example of the government responding to the voices of its people. However, the lock-out laws were introduced with little engagement with local business owners or with the community who actually participates in the nightlife. The laws also conveniently stop at the casino, considered by most rational observers as a hotbed of vice. Apparently, the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, has little power over a venue that exists for the purpose of liquor, gaming and racing. Is this a case of selective hearing?

Either way it was clear this was an audience who wanted to be heard. The event ran nearly an hour over time but the debate could have easily continued into the wee hours. The organisers state that they will send a copy of the transcript of the forum to political leaders in the hope that On the Floor will be a catalyst for policy changes. It will be interesting to see what comes of this forum, and from future forums, as the event proved overall an effective platform for grassroots debate.

Check out the links below for further details:

The Thomas Kelly Foundation – Take Kare campaign

Last Drinks Campaign

Get Up Petition opposing lock-out laws

Keep Sydney Open campaign

Reclaim the Streets Facebook page

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