Laws, lies and lockouts; are we really being left out in the cold?

As a young person living in the city, I have found the change in Sydney since the lockout laws mind blowing. I remember leaving a well-known locale in the middle of Kings Cross at about 1am and having to push through the sweaty heaving throng — on the street. Now, the only sweaty heaving throng is of crickets bemoaning the slow death to which the nightlife seems to have been consigned.

Poor little guy; he just wants a beer after 10pm

It’s undeniable; since the introduction of Sydney’s infamous lockout laws venues have closed, strip clubs have ceased baring all, and kebab shops have quietly stopped serving horse meat in the once-vibrant city centre. And there are plenty of statistics to back up those claims. Foot traffic has fallen by roughly 60% for certain times of night, and venues are reporting takings less than half of previous years. The number of long-standing Kings Cross venues that have had to close in the last 18 months is never-ending, and soon to be longer. And even worse, they’re gentrifying the Cross.

How DARE they?

There’s plenty of anger going around, not least from venue owners who have seen their livelihood fall by the wayside, and particularly as many claim that there aren’t even any health benefits; non-domestic assault was falling anyway, alcohol-related violence just moved to the Star, and one-punch victims wouldn’t have even been saved by these laws.


Lockout laws save lives.

In the years leading up to the lockout laws, the average number of non-domestic assaults per month in the CBD and Cross was about 230. Post-lockouts, that number has fallen dramatically to about 140. That’s a reduction in assaults of 45%, and for the stats nerds out there the result is statistically significant. A plethora of research has demonstrated a causal relationship; reduce the density of alcohol-serving venues and reduce their hours of operation and less people will die.

nd those who say that the Star has just copped the brunt of assaults? They’re just wrong. There has been a miniscule increase in assaults at the Star, which is neither statistically significant nor even a fraction of the decrease (it comes out to about 1 per month). Other areas that have been talked about as potential new hotspots of violence have similarly been unaffected by the lockout laws, with Newtown, Double Bay and other areas generally seeing a decline in assaults (or a similarly tiny increase), and the state overall losing 9% of its non-domestic assaults.

Pictured; statistical significance

Doctors at St. Vincent’s, the hospital notoriously coping with an endless supply of drunken victims, have come out in support of the lockouts. Since the laws’ introduction there has been a 25% drop in the number of serious assault-related injuries presenting to the hospital ED. The area described by medical professionals as a “war zone” has become safer than ever before.

It can’t be said enough.

Lockout laws save lives.

And now we come to our final question. Lockouts have saved lives. They have also killed the nightlife.

Could we have done it better? Could we do it better now?

It’s a difficult question to answer. Melbourne trialed a set of lockout laws that were monumentally unsuccessful, and decided instead to introduce better public transport. Whilst there have been some reductions in assaults, we’ve seen a much bigger fall in Sydney. Many cities around the world cope with less restrictive laws, but as ever cultural and social differences make it hard to say with precision what key differences help them keep crime rates down. And this is even harder because sometimes, they just live with higher rates of assault.

Ultimately it’s not a question of whether the lockout laws have been successful. Of course they have. They’ve succeeded in every stated aim. They are even quite popular once you move outside of the inner-city suburbs most directly effected.

The real question we need to ask; what do we value most?

Are we willing to let the occasional person die from alcohol-related violence if it means we can stay out all night again?

It’s not an easy question. And I’m not sure I have an answer. The only thing I can say is something that really bears repeating:

Lockout laws save lives.

Edit; on the 13th of September 2016 the government review into the lockout laws came back, with roughly the same message as this article. The gains of the lockout laws have been significant, but the cost has been high. There may be some partial relaxing of the laws, so watch this space!

Epidemiologist. Writer. Podcaster. Twitter FB Email