Speaking up for our Night-Time Economy

23 September 2020


Second Reading Debate

Ms JODIE HARRISON(Charlestown) (16:44:10):I contribute to the debate on the Liquor Amendment (24Hour Economy) Bill 2020. It has been said that a city reveals itself at night. Unfortunately, in recent years NewSouthWales' cities have been forced to reveal themselves as quiet and empty and lacking the vibrancy and energy that has come to mark many of the world's truly great cities when the sun goes down and the street lights come on. Noone can deny the negative impacts of alcoholfuelled antisocial behaviour and that it is unacceptable. However, the approach this Government took severely restricted the potential of our State's nighttime economy and undermined business and culture. This approach has taken a sledgehammer to nightlife, forcing the closure of some of the most iconic venues in Sydney and Newcastle. While our interstate rivals in Melbourne and Brisbane have enjoyed the cultural and economic benefits of a vibrant nightlifeat least until the unforeseeable disaster of COVID-19our State developed an international reputation as joyless and oppressive. In fact, New South Wales' nightlife is the most restricted in the OECD. This bill will go some way towards remedying this situation. However, it does not go far enough.

In fact, just looking at the title of the bill indicates that its focus is on alcohol rather than the creation of a vibrant nightlife in this State. The impacts of this Government's approach to the nighttime economy have been profound. Venues have had to close which means people, usually younger people, have lost jobs. MusicNSW has indicated that 85per cent of live music venues are saying they may have to close in the next 12months unless there is urgent Government intervention. That would be a disaster for our State. We should be having a respectful and reasonable discussion about what works and what does not. What kind of cities do we have and what kind of cities do we want to live in and how do we get there? We should be encouraging a vibrant, responsible nightlife and the cultural energy that goes along with a 24-hour economy. We should be welcoming tourists to our cities with the promise of nights they will never forget.

I will now move to addressing aspects of the bill. By consolidating the three existing sanctions schemes under the Liquor Act into one integrated demerit pointsbased system and rewarding the proper and responsible management of licensed premises with licence fee discounts, the bill is intended to make it easier for licensees and managers to follow the rules. It will encourage them to do so with positive incentives rather than punitive measures. Hopefully, this will mean that licensees and managers will no longer see the authorities as an opposing group but as partners to work with in creating a safer and more vibrant night-time economy, which will benefit everyone. It is hoped that the bill will help deliver targeted solutions for specific problems in specific areas. It will do this by introducing a new framework to help manage areas with large concentrations of licensed premises and alcoholrelated problems and empowering the Liquor Authority to issue a cumulative impact assessment designating areas where evidence shows significant negative impacts or risks relating to the density of licensed premises.

The bill also improves the regulation of sameday alcohol deliveries, which is aimed at minimising the risks of minors or intoxicated people accessing alcohol through these services. The bill will lift the standards for delivery by incorporating new measures, including mandatory ID checks and age verification, responsible service of alcohol training for delivery drivers and selfexclusion options for customers. Creating new offences for drivers supplying an intoxicated person and delivering outside trading hours will also ensure that these changes are taken as seriously as they should be. The reforms included in this bill are intended to remove red tape and reduce regulatory overlap to support more live music and entertainment at licensed premises. The removal of overly burdensome and outdated licence conditions, such as those restricting the types of instruments and genre of music that can be played during live performances, are welcome.

However, as I and previous speakers on this side of the House have said, this bill does not go far enough to support our music industry. I certainly support an amendment to this bill to remove bans on live music and some of the more bizarre venue restrictions. Last week I visited Kurri Kurri Community Preschool and was astonished to see their chicken coop outfitted with a mirror ball. For some very strange reason, mirror balls are restricted in many licensed venues. Kurri Kurri Community Preschool can have one in its chicken coop but you cannot have one on a licensed premises. The licensing restrictions which make cover bands the only type of live musos who can play at a venue are also in dire need of overhaul. How will new and emerging artists develop their talents and build support without being able to play their own songs?

There are, of course, many in the community who support the actions this Government has taken in this area. They see fewer incidents of alcoholfuelled violence in areas where it used to be all too common and accept the Government's restrictions as a successful policy approach. I understand this point of view. But I disagree that the Government's approach has struck the right balance between restriction and reform. A night-time economy is not necessarily wedded to antisocial behaviourfar from it. The Opposition has criticised the Government's approach to the night-time economy as being too focused on alcohol, its abuse and the social issues that go with it. I join with my colleagues in calling for a broader discussion about how to create and maintain a safe and lively 24hour economy that includes accessible and reliable public transport, the proper handling of live music and entertainment and the encouragement of beneficial culture and tourism. These are all things which, in a globalised tourism trade, make a city great and attractive to visitors.

I have been to places where a 24-hour economy has created energetic, vibrant city districts, buzzing with activity and life long after dark. Think about the night markets of Bangkok which are full of energy and culture. Seville, in the south of Spain, rests during the warm days and comes to life at midnight. Musicians play flamenco in the alleyways while people sing and dance in the street and bars are free to serve sangria and tapas until the sun comes up. Closer to home, many who have visited Bali, Singapore or Malaysia will tell stories of the extraordinary things that can only happen in a lively, thriving city at night: markets, street food, music and chatting with strangers who become your best friends over the course of an hourstrangers who you may never see again but will always remember.

Some of my most treasured memories are of late nights out with friends in Sydney and in Newcastle, listening to bands at live performance venues, enjoying a glass of wine or two and always getting home safely. These are the kinds of experiences and this is the kind of joy which this Government's overly punitive and restrictive approach to the problematic aspects of a night-time economy have stripped from the residents of this State and have denied to our many overseas and interstate visitors. It is madness that in cities like Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, where we enjoy a similar climate to southern Europe over the summer months, people are forced to go home at 11.00 p.m. They should be able to enjoy the warm evenings on the shores of the lake or at Honeysuckle as much as possible.

Some of the points I have raised may seem inconsequential in the face of COVID-19, which has of course shut down cities and global tourism. The virus has had enormous impacts on our arts and hospitality industries, quite outside the restrictions this bill is aiming to reform. I understand the anxiety of many of the business owners and workers in these industries. We are suffering the paired economic blows of COVID-19 and the first recession in 30 years. Each of these would have been devastating; together they are catastrophic. As we look towards recovery, the lifting of these sorts of onerous restrictions will breathe new life into our State's cities. A thriving, safe night-time economy will help to rejuvenate local business and local culture. This bill will go some way to creating that outcome . I support this bill with amendments.