Speech in Parliament on lockout laws

1.44pm | September 14, 2016

The lockout laws in New South Wales were put in place in 2014. They have three elements: 1.30 am lockouts; a 3 am cessation of liquor sales; and a 10 pm cap on takeaway of alcohol. Today the New South Wales government has actually released publicly former High Court Justice Ian Callinan's independent review of those liquor laws. 

The lockout laws in New South Wales were put in place in 2014. They have three elements: 1.30 am lockouts; a 3 am cessation of liquor sales; and a 10 pm cap on takeaway of alcohol. Today the New South Wales government has actually released publicly former High Court Justice Ian Callinan's independent review of those liquor laws. That is very welcome. The review was very welcome. I think, two and a bit years on, it is a good time to stop and have the opportunity to think about how this particular policy response has worked and what have been its strengths and weaknesses.

I am not going to stand up in this chamber and put the simple view that these laws are good or bad, because the truth is that how we manage our public spaces, how we manage alcohol and how we balance the risks attendant with alcohol related violence with the freedoms we like to imagine might be available in our most cosmopolitan cities are complex questions. People who say they have straightforward answers are almost certainly having us on. The truth is we do have a problem with alcohol related violence in this country. Before the lockout laws, a significant percentage of assaults being recorded were alcohol fuelled—27 per cent of all assaults in Kings Cross; 22 per cent, in the CBD; 25 per cent, in the suburbs that surround the CBD; 29 per cent, in Newtown, Bondi, Coogee and Double Bay; and 23 per cent, in Pyrmont. Some of these assaults represent quite serious injury and some of them even represent lives lost. People will recall that loss of life was the impetus for the review of these laws some years ago. The liquor law review has found that the lockout laws have had an impact: they actually have helped reduce alcohol fuelled assaults.

But I do want to use my time this afternoon to think a little bit and reflect on some of the unintended consequences of these laws. I want to talk particularly about live music, because the truth is that the lockout laws have had a real and very substantial impact on the live music industry in Sydney. The report actually acknowledged this. Justice Callinan said:

I am concerned that live entertainment and those employed in it (including sound and light technicians etc) have lost opportunities of employment.

The way to deal with this, in my view, is to sit down with the stakeholders and have a sensible discussion about what we can do to protect the important contribution that is made by live music. Unfortunately, what we often get from the Baird government in New South Wales is very much a top-down approach that very infrequently involves genuine consultation with the community or genuine consultation with the economic stakeholders.

Live music is an economic issue. It is fun and I like it, but it is also an increasingly valuable part of the Australian economy. Research shows that live music spending in Australia delivers at least a three-to-one benefit-to-cost ratio. That means, for every dollar that is spent on live music in Australia, three dollars worth of benefits are returned to the wider Australian community. It was estimated that in 2014 the live music industry contributed around $15.7 billion to the Australian economy, and the lockout laws in New South Wales have taken a fair chunk out of that.

APRA/AMCOS is the industry body for live music. It released figures in February this year that set out just how much licensing revenue fell in the period from 1 February 2013 to 31 January 2015. Of venues with a live artist performance licence, all premises experienced, on average, a 40 per cent overall decline in the value of door charge receipts and a 15 per cent overall decrease in the value of venue expenditure on live artist performers. Venues with a live artist performance licence—hotels, bars and nightclubs specifically—actually experienced a 32 per cent decrease in the value of door charge receipts. Venues with a recorded music for dance use licence—you can see that the licensing laws are complex, and I have every respect for the people that navigate the system—experienced a 19 per cent decrease in attendance figures across all venues.

The consequence of this is not that these venues are just making a little bit less money. The consequence of this is that that they are shutting down and it is changing the fabric of Sydney's cultural scene. I think it is easy for people who are a little bit older, who do not go out very much, to think that this is not something that affects them. But it ignores the fact that Australian artists do not produce music in isolation; they are part of an ecosystem. Artists develop and are recognised by audiences, by labels and by their peers by playing at live music venues all throughout Australia.

I want to tell a little story. Every so often, the White House releases President Barack Obama's Spotify playlist. The latest one has a song on it by Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, and that is a fantastic achievement. We congratulate Courtney. But Courtney and artists like her do not emerge fully formed, ready to just claim a spot on the presidential mixtape. Australian artists do their gigs in pubs and clubs and small performance spaces. That is where they start, and they grow in ability and recognition as they do so.

I was reminded of this on Saturday night when I went to see Flight Facilities play—and, before people get too excited about my night-life, I will explain that they were playing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. It was a pretty amazing mix of families and young people listening to really wonderful Australian music.

But as the Sydney based music critic Jonno Seidler wrote: 'What many people forget, or perhaps are not aware of, is that James and Hugo—the members of Flight Facilities—met each other, held a longstanding residency, developed their sound and found guest vocalists in various Sydney clubs. All of them have now shut down.' He continued: “What that really means is that if Flight Facilities had started in 2015, they'd never be able to get to the point where they sold out a 15,000 capacity venue with a live orchestra, because the only place they—and other emerging artists like them – could practice under Mike Baird’s cultural policy is in their bedroom. The music that you love cannot be divorced from the context out of which it grows. We do need live venues more than ever.'

I started my remarks by explaining that I am not one-sided about this. I think we do have some genuine challenges to address about alcohol fuelled violence. But I want to say that, when we do so, we need to make sure that we do not snuff out the soundtrack to our cities. Music should have a place in our bars and in our clubs, not just on our iPhones.