Speech: the Newtown Response to the Lockouts

NSW Greens spokesperson on Night-time Culture and Economy and Member for Newtown Jenny Leong spoke in the Parliament about the local, targeted response to the lockouts that has taken place in Newtown.


Today I refer to the vibe in Newtown which is under threat due to the Liberal Government's failure to support genuine solutions that lead to a vibrant and safe night‑life in our city. The recent report of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research demonstrates that the imposition of the lockout has had a significant impact on nondomestic assault numbers—within the lockout zones they are down and outside the lockout zones they are up. It is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on one's opinion, where one lives and what one does on Saturday night.

This debate should not be divisive. Everyone is in agreement that there should be a vibrant and safe night-time culture and economy in Sydney. This reduction and displacement of violence shows that targeted local solutions are needed and the answer is certainly not more lockouts. The current top-down approach was imposed without consultation and has punished whole communities through the shutdown of night-life in some parts of the city. That has led to a dispersal of and an increase in aggression and assaults in other parts of the community.

A collaborative response is needed to bring stakeholders and community members together to directly address the issues of alcohol-related violence and aggression. In 2015 Newtown held a public meeting in response to community concerns about public safety. The implementation of the lockouts upon the central business district and Kings Cross shifted partiers to other areas and changed the vibe in Newtown. I initiated the first community meeting in collaboration with the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre and the business precinct. The meeting was called to address community concerns regarding the Newtown vibe.

More than 150 local residents and visitors were in attendance. It was not a whinge fest; attendees put forward ideas. As a result the Newtown Vibe Roundtable was established which is co-chaired by me and Liz Yeo from the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre. Participants include the Newtown Local Area Command, Reclaim the Streets, the Newtown Precinct Business Association, the local liquor accord, ACON, the Marrickville and City of Sydney councils and local residents. For 18 months this locally led committee has responded to the challenges faced by the community. It does not claim to have solved all the issues the community faces but it has responded and attempted to minimise the impacts and changes in the area.

Both the creative Friday Night Vibes events in Newtown Square and the local council's support for new taxi ranks on King Street are roundtable initiatives. The Greens support 24-hour public transport on weekends. It is well known that many of the issues and altercations occur when people have had too much to drink and cannot get home. Security staff in Newtown venues have participated in safer bars training and local venues are trialling ways to manage community safety through the liquor accord. The roundtable was valuable as a locally driven solution. Local people with local knowledge are finding solutions to problems in the area.

It is clear that more needs to be done. I will continue to do all that I can to protect the Newtown vibe. Next week there will be a follow-up public meeting to listen to the people who live, work and play in Newtown and to discuss the next move. The Greens oppose the CBD and Kings Cross lockouts. The Greens will continue to advocate for targeted solutions that address the issues of alcohol-induced violence, problem venues and aggressive, offensive behaviour. The Greens will question the Government's lack of action with regard to these issues.

Why did the Government delay implementing increased financial penalties on problem venues until after the recent lockout review? Why is it now seeking to create loopholes that will allow venues with strikes against them to avoid greater penalties? The Greens have long advocated for substantial penalties for venues that breach liquor licences. These businesses must be held to account if they do not meet safety standards. There has been no strengthening of the responsible service of alcohol certification and compliance, and the Drug and Alcohol Unit within the Department of Education has not been re-established.

The Greens believe stronger responsible service of alcohol [RSA] requirements and more education about harm minimisation strategies are key. The answer to addressing alcohol-related violence is not simply to stop everyone going out; it is not simply to shut down our night life. The Newtown community knows that we can stay up all night. We also know that things in our area are changing, and that we need to be vigilant about protecting the Newtown we love. I assure Sydney's creative communities and everyone who likes to go out to party that The Greens will continue to work with them to keep Sydney vibrant, safe and open.

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