Lobby group Keep Sydney Open will host its first public rally this Sunday in opposition to the controversial New South Wales State Government lockout laws. At last look, 13,000 people had RSVP'd to the Facebook event, with another 16,000 interested in attending. "It's going to be one hell of a party," says Tyson Koh, campaign manager of Keep Sydney Open. "We want to celebrate what makes our city great and at the same time, send a strong message to government."
The highly controversial laws were introduced to an area of inner Sydney and the CBD in February 2014 as a means to minimise alcohol-related violence. The laws impose a number of restrictions on licensed venues and bottle shops within the zone, including a 1.30am lockout for venues and a state-wide 10pm closure for the latter.
Koh cites Melbourne as one of the best and closest examples of a vibrant after-dark culture, with public transport running through the night on weekends. "Other cities like Vancouver close down their entertainment precincts to traffic, and in Asia, retail hours are extended so people are attracted to the streets for activities and not for alcohol alone. We have a lot to learn."
Ahead of the rally, we asked some key figures from the food, wine and hospitality industries to weigh in. Here's what they had to say.
Giovanni Paradiso, co-owner of Fratelli Paradiso
"There's a society of people that live after midnight. For my staff and I, it's when some of our best thinking is done - we talk about dishes, food and the industry, and we brainstorm. Once we start to lose that, it affects us. This weekend we're taking it back to the street, which is where it started. Hopefully the gods that govern our city will realise they've gotten it wrong. If we're afraid, we'll lose all the interesting people. Artistically we'll become nothing."
Kenny Graham, co-owner of Mary's & The Unicorn "The problem is people breaking laws relating to violence. I would not be so bold to say I have the answers, but it seems that governance and the penalising of these crimes would be a good place to start. There's always been solidarity among the hospitality industry. We show it during 14-hour shifts together, we show it through our support of our fellow businesses and we're sure as hell going to show it when the city we love falls into a state of aberration."
Maurice Terzini, owner of Icebergs Dining Room and Bar "We're big supporters of Keep Sydney Open. At first, the lockouts got rid of some rogue operators who were running unsafe places, but now it's affecting the development of the industry. It's not a crime to have a drink at 3am. The most influential years of my life involved drinking wine with chefs and waiters, and learning and laughing. I feel like my social life has been stolen. In an educated society, it's astonishing that we can't have a vibrant and safe nightlife. You can't put policing onto operators - put more police on the street."
Helen Marcou, co-founder of SLAM (Save Live Australia's Music) "When lockout laws were introduced in Victoria in 2008 we found they didn't take in positive cultural activity; we had 126 live music venues in six months either reduce their music programs or close down. Let's look at why we have groups of youth drinking on the street and research why the bigger pre-packaged liquor outlets seem to be given free run, when small galleries, live music venues, theatres and restaurants are being targeted. It's a complex beast, but blanket rules don't work."
Luke Ashton, co-owner of Sydney bar This Must Be the Place "Bartenders are so governed by Responsible Service of Alcohol that drinking in a bar is probably the safest place you can drink. It's a place where people are genuinely concerned, will cut you off and make sure you get home safe. We don't want intoxication on the streets, but we want to work with police rather than go straight to a last resort."
Linda Scott, City of Sydney Councillor and Deputy Chair of Labor's Sustainable Communities Committee "What Sydney's nightlife needs is diversity; more inner-city late-night venues, more live music and a more inclusive nightlife that offers alternatives to sitting on a skinny stool and sinking beers. It would be more fun if we had pedestrians in all our dark alleys looking at public art, events that generate great street activations and safe, affordable public transport to get home."
John Fink, creative director at The Fink Group "What Sydney's going through is a 'parenting moment'. We're a young teenager in relative terms to more sophisticated cities. At the time, the government needed to step in and say, 'Shame on you, here's your punishment until you start behaving like a grown up'. Culture is not about selling booze, it's not about getting blotto with your mates. It's about creating a vibrant city. Food is one key part, but venue owners should provide other cultural touch points like art shows, music performances and poetry, alongside a drink."
Keep Sydney Open public rally, Belmore Park, Sydney, NSW, Sunday 21 February, 12.30pm.
The rally will end at Bar Century on George Street where a mock funeral will be held for the venues and jobs lost to the lockout laws since they were introduced; sign up to the Facebook event or visit keepsydneyopen.com