Australia

Justin Hemmes says Sydney's lockout laws must go

Merivale Group CEO Justin Hemmes addresses the NSW State Parliament Joint Committee on Sydney's Night Time Economy public hearing at NSW State Parliament. Source: AAP

Pub and restaurant baron Justin Hemmes has told an inquiry that Sydney's lockout laws have served their purpose and it's time for them to go.

Pub baron Justin Hemmes says Sydney's lockout laws have served their purpose but the pendulum has now swung too far in the wrong direction and it's time for them to go.

The Merivale boss on Friday told a NSW parliamentary inquiry into the city's night-time economy that he had supported the government introducing the laws in response to alcohol-fuelled violence.

He said lockouts had acted as a useful circuit breaker to a culture of violence, but Sydney had suffered a significant decline in its vibrancy and appeal and become a "ghost town" at night.

Justin Hemmes.
Justin Hemmes.
AAP

Mr Hemmes, who owns more than a dozen bars and pubs in the CBD lockout zone, reflected on incidents in which pop superstar Madonna was locked out of her own after-party and the coach of Chelsea Football Club couldn't re-enter a venue after stepping out to make a phone call after 1.30am.

"They just don't understand what we're doing. It's an embarrassment," he said.

Mr Hemmes said Sydney needed a night-time ecosystem of restaurants, bars, retail, live music and entertainment to draw people into the CBD.

"With the imminent arrival of light rail, the new metro lines and the introduction of services such as Uber and other ride-sharing services, there are now far more efficient and effective means to disperse people home 24 hours a day," he said.

"With respect, Sydney's lockout laws must go. They have served their purpose and Sydney has been recast."

He said the government's violent venues scheme and three-strikes regime - under which venues can lose their liquor licences - were also outdated and had to be drastically changed.

But a coalition of emergency service workers warns that winding the laws back will risk lives.

The Last Drinks coalition is calling for alcohol laws to remain unchanged, for increased funding for emergency service resources, and mandatory linked ID scanners in venues across the CBD.

"We should not return to the ugly, deadly and dangerous past of having alcohol as the driver of our economy," Brett Holmes from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association told reporters on Friday.

"We believe that the lockout laws have been proven very clearly to save lives and to make life better for those people who are given the responsibility for looking after public safety."

Justine Baker, chief executive of hospitality group Solotel, told the hearing Sydney used to be progressive and exciting but the city had become "conservative, boring, less diverse and middle-aged".

She described the current regulatory regime as ageist, saying "we think it's an older generation telling young people how they should behave".

Their testimony came as the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research released research that suggested the laws have reduced the number of assaults but the benefit is diminishing over time.

BOCSAR found non-domestic assaults dropped 53 per cent in Kings Cross and four per cent in the CBD since lockouts were introduced.

But in the same period, assaults rose by 30 per cent at alternative nightspots accessible from the city.

"The effect of the reforms in Kings Cross is still strong however the positive impact in the CBD has fallen over the long term," executive director Jackie Fitzgerald said in a statement.

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