I contribute to debate on the Liquor Amendment (24‑hour Economy) Bill 2020. The year 2020 has not exactly given us much to laugh about. However, one of my favourite memes doing the rounds suggests that when figuring out the best way to shut down a city and impose a night‑time curfew Victorian Premier Dan Andrews asked New South Wales. For far too long Sydney has risked its reputation as a fun, safe and noisy global city through its approach to liquor regulation and its refusal to acknowledge the benefits of its night-time economy.
The bill comes as the Government announces its 24-hour Economy Strategy, which includes late‑night transport, extended trading hours for some retailers, streamlined liquor licensing and a new look at live music and noise regulations. Some of these are admirable ideas, but I am concerned they will not allow us to move quickly enough and get Sydney back. We need a new set of approaches that fully embrace the innovation, resilience and creativity of those who work in our 24-hour economy.
While this bill seeks to move us some of the way towards energising that economy, it fails in some key areas. The bill introduces a second tranche of reforms to the Liquor Act 2007 and the Liquor Regulation 2018 to implement the Government's 2019 response to the 2019 report of the New South Wales Parliament's Joint Select Committee on Sydney's Night Time Economy. The bill consolidates sanction schemes into one integrated demerit point based system. It establishes a frame work to manage areas with large concentrations of liquor licensed premises and seeks to further regulate same-day alcohol delivery services. The bill seeks to remove some of the red tape that stymies live music and entertainment at licensed premises, and holds back the proliferation of small bars across Sydney.
However, what the bill does not do is address ridiculous flash dance types of rules, such as bans on live music, restrictions on mirror balls and dance floors, and compulsory rules on cover bands. Madam Deputy Speaker, you heard it right—bans on cover bands. Nor does the bill empower local councils to remove conditions from development application approvals. Labor does not oppose the bill, but clearly the bill does not go far enough. Labor will move amendments to better support live music across Sydney. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the inner-west night economy with scores of local hospitality workers out of work and venues left struggling to keep their doors open. According to the COVID-19 financial impact index, the Summerhill electorate was one of the most financially impacted areas, with 70 per cent to 80 per cent declines in revenue and above-average unemployment in hospitality and creative arts are sectors. The night-time economy, including local small bars, microbreweries and one-of-a-kind live music venues, are invaluable economic drivers. They bring visitors, jobs and opportunities to our suburbs. But they have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
In its evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into the Government's response to COVID, MusicNSW reported that a survey of 47 entertainment venues in the city found that 85 per cent of them were likely to close within the next six months to nine months unless we acted urgently. Many people would have seen calls to sign the Save Our Stages petition that demands the Government stop the decline of our venues. I urge everyone in the community to sign the petition. Local venues in my electorate, such as Butchers Brew in Dulwich Hill, Lazybones Lounge and the Gasoline Pony in Marrickville, have seen dramatic decreases in their patronage. Like many other local venues, they are pushed to the brink. Of course those venues want to get business back, but not business as normal because the previous regulation of their businesses was overly restrictive and in some instances it was just plain ridiculous. We have gone from lockouts to lockdown. Now what we need is a licensing regime that moves our night-time economy forward.
In response to the exposure draft of this bill, I hosted a roundtable of local operators to hear their stories and to gauge reaction. Overwhelmingly small- and medium-sized venues felt they were being overregulated and ensnared by a one-size-fits-all approach that curtails bad behaviour by big operators, but fails to account for the viability of smaller local operators. They ask the Government to remove inconsistencies around security requirements for small bars. They thought that venues should not be penalised for violence that occurs near but not within their smaller establishment. They expressed frustration that the conversation about our nightlife continues to focus predominantly around alcohol restrictions. They argued for the need to increase investment in live music, arts and the creative sectors. I wholeheartedly agree with them.
The bill establishes an integrated demerit point based system by combining the existing three strikes for violent venues and minor sanctions. It is a carrot and stick approach: Venues that do the wrong thing will be subject to demerit points issued either automatically in the case of serious breaches or by the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority after sustained issues with the venue. Good operators who do the right thing will be rewarded under the scheme with discounted fees for liquor licences. While this risk-based approach is a positive step overall, I note the concern of small- and medium-sized operators that they will be treated in the same way as our larger venues. One of the operators in my electorate said:
Charging higher fees for venues that incur demerit points unfairly punishes the venue twice for the original breach and then the annual fee. Many venues cannot afford the time or money to go to court and fight the demerit point.
The bill make some important reforms for small bars. One change I am particularly excited about is the ability for children to accompany their parents to small bars. I have to say that I am one of the local residents who will enjoy that opportunity. I have been contacted by many who would like to try out the small bars in the inner west, but have not been able to do so with their kids in tow. Small bars are often safer, quieter and more controlled environments. This move towards a more family friendly approach is very welcome. The bill also streamlines the process around applying for small bar licences, including removing the requirements of applicants to obtain a community impact statement so long as the relevant authority has been directly notified of their intention to apply.
Many small bars in the inner west adapted to COVID-19 very quickly and took advantage of the relaxation of the liquor laws to allow venues to sell takeaway alcoholic drinks and home-delivered cocktails. For some of the small bars, such as the Temperance bar in Summerhill or Titus Jones in Marrickville, this service was an absolute lifeline. I have been contacted by many venue operators who asked that these rules be allowed to continue into the future.
While the bill does try to address the regulatory gap around the same-day delivery it also addresses the regulatory gap around same-day liquor services. In the mist of the lockdown, Jimmy Brings reported its customer base grew by 23 per cent. Some predict that by 2023 those sales will make up 8.6 per cent of the market, which is a very significant increase. The bill makes a series of very commonsense changes in this space that effectively bring those services in line with bottle shops. The changes include requiring drivers to offer mandatory ID checks and age verification, responsible service of alcohol training, allowing customers to self-exclude from service and extending laws that may give a defence to supplying an intoxicated person or delivering alcohol outside trading hours. I note that some have argued the bill does not go far enough in this regard and that health professionals are calling on the Government to, for example, mandate age-gating technology and ban the buy now, pay later options.
It is important to get the balance right in this area when seeking to regulate disruptions to our existing markets. I urge the Government to consider the issues that have been raised by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, the Health Services Union and others in this space. If we are to unlock the full potential of our night-time economy, our city needs new ideas that include taking a broom to the outdated and often ridiculous rules restricting live music and performance.
I have long argued that Sydney has a problem with noise. Our city is meant to be gritty, loud, eccentric and exciting. It gives us its heart and soul. In better times, that single factor has brought people from all around the world to Sydney. Too often we side with those who want to silence the city or push our creativity and entertainment industries to the city's edges. We want to close down Luna Park because neighbours in luxury apartments complain or we shut down our historical rocking pub music scene because people who have moved into the new development next door cannot hear their televisions. It is happening all around us. Time and time again we fail to value our arts and creative industries.
If further proof is needed, consider that currently seven Government bodies and agencies are responsible for managing noise. As we emerge from COVID-19 we have an opportunity to shake off that image—that we are a nanny state city with go-to-bed-early types, which is the very image that has made us the butt of Victorians' jokes. We could once again invite tourists from overseas and interstate when opportunities arise. The majority of them will be younger people who are less afraid to travel and who are itching for a good time after months or indeed years of lockdown. [Extension of time]
Sydney's image as a beautiful and exciting global city will be more important than ever. The truth is we have a lot of work to do. We need to be bold and we need to be noisy. This bill moves us forward by removing some of the ridiculous restrictions on the genre of music that can be played at a venue or the type of instrument that can be used or the number of performances that are allowed on the stage. That is all good stuff, but in some respects it is low-hanging fruit. The bill does not remove bans on live music, which means that venues are unable to expand their offerings and provide critical opportunities for new and emerging artists. They are the people who are really doing it tough right now. Recently one local venue in Sydenham in my electorate attempted to host an impromptu live music night with literally a musician playing an acoustic guitar in the corner, and he was threatened with closure if it went ahead. The venue owner told me he just wanted to give his friend a go and also try to get a few new people into the establishment, but he was treated like a criminal and he could not go ahead with it.
As previous speakers on this side have noted, the Opposition will be seeking to move amendments to remove the ban on live music. That is what is needed in Sydney and in this State. With artists and musicians hurting, it is time to lift the bans and free our venues from the noise police. This bill fails to remove the ridiculous restrictions around mirror balls and dance floors where New South Wales regulations automatically transform any venue into a nightclub. It fails to remove rules that make cover bands in some establishments compulsory. It seems the Government, while well-intentioned in this space, is determined to tell people what they can and cannot listen to.
Under the provisions of this bill, Liquor & Gaming NSW will no longer hear complaints about noise from live music, instead leaving it to the police and local councils. Ironically, the bill does not give councils the power to remove conditions from development approvals. One expert in this area wrote to me stating, "Not addressing duplication of entertainment regulation by local councils in the planning scheme also means these liquor reforms may have little or no effect." Ending that duplication is critical if we are to ensure our liquor licensing regime gives artists a right to play. It acknowledges that local councils are often best placed to manage the sensitivities around noise and the character that live music and performance brings to our suburbs and local neighbourhoods.
One of the key messages of the night-time economy roundtable I convened in response to the draft bill was that we are not doing enough to support arts and live music in our city. We know our creative industries are on the precipice and we have to act now to ensure they remain viable. We will always have music and art, theatre and performance but the truth is that we are facing the loss of a generation or more of artists if we do not act now. If we lose critical venues and rehearsal spaces that support musicians and artists, we may lose more rooms in our clubs and pubs to pokies as well. More than ever we need to give ourselves room to be noisy. I urge the Government to support Labor's amendments to help bring vibrant Sydney back.