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The 3am Curfew - Let's Party Like It's 1959

Author: Rachel Olding
Thursday, 31 January 2008

Sydney is currently in the middle of a trial 3am club and pub lockout, similar to that employed in Queensland. 3D’s Rachel Olding found out what the curfew means for local clubbers, and whether it’s likely to become permanent.

For months now, clubbers, bar hoppers and night owls have been alarmed by the growing mass of rumours suggesting a 3am curfew or lockout will be introduced for Sydney’s licensed venues. Petitions and Facebook groups have sprung up like mushrooms after rain with panicky punters defending their freedom, autonomy and democratic right to be club sluts.

Unbeknownst to most, the curfew is already here.

Late last year on 14 December, the City Central Local Area Command and the City of Sydney Council introduced a 3am weekend lockout for licensed premises. The lockout allows patrons inside the premises to remain but those seeking entry after 3am will be turned away.

“It has been identified that 3am onwards ... is a peak time for alcohol-related crime and anti-social behaviour with groups of often intoxicated people moving between licences premises,” a police statement said. “It is hoped that the lockout strategy will reduce this behaviour.”

It is, however, voluntary for bars, clubs and pubs to participate in the six-month trial. Several venues, mostly in lower George Street where the initiative is targeted, are participating, including violence hot-spot Scruffy Murphy’s.

Management of the venue says patrons at Scruffy Murphy’s have adjusted to the curfew by coming earlier and settling in for the night. They have encountered no trouble once the lockout begins as those refused entry simply leave or get a cab, however a security guard at a nearby bar occasionally sees some get aggressive when refused entry. “They don’t get in cabs and go home, they just walk down the road to the next bar to keep getting drunk,” he says.

If the experiences of other Australian cities and towns with curfews are anything to go by, the trial will continue to produce mixed results.

Queensland has had a 3am curfew since 2005, yet assaults in and around licensed premised have risen.

“All that the lockout has done is take the violence from the street to the doors of the pubs and clubs,” Phil Mackney, general manager of Queensland Hospitality and Security Staff, says. He believes the public are more aggressive towards bouncers and staff when they are refused entry after 3am.

Similar problems have plagued Terrigal, Newcastle and the Manly Corso while Hobart and a host of NSW country towns have implemented curfews to great success. Drunken street violence has decreased markedly and with little public complaint.

But the debate is a lot more heated in Sydney.

The police and medical services, who bear the brunt of the so-called ‘3am danger period’ every weekend, have supported a curfew as part of a comprehensive campaign to address intoxication and street violence.

Dr Alex Wodak, Director of Alcohol and Drug Services at Darlinghurst’s St Vincent’s Hospital, witnesses the effects of mindless alcohol-fuelled scuffles first hand in the hospital’s emergency ward. He is wary of seeing a curfew as the solution to street violence, saying nothing will work if the bar is set so high, but believes such measures are better than nothing.

“The realistic objective is to reduce alcohol-related violence which is a significant problem for the community,” he says. “Restricting alcohol sales work more often than they don’t work, but it’s important when trying unusual measures to carefully evaluate benefits and possible negatives.”

Yet in an ominous sign for the future of the initiative, almost all of Sydney’s licensed late-night venues have ignored the trial.

Patrick Ahern, licensee of traditional late-night haunt Candy’s Apartment, says the club has no plans to implement a curfew and would strongly oppose any further developments.

“It makes no sense for us to refuse entry after 3am,” he says. “It’s just stupid to have so many people out on the street at the same time. Candy’s has a very strict door policy as far as intoxicated and troublesome people go so we see no reason to have a curfew.”

Several clubs around the city including Dragonfly Nightclub and Yu in Potts Point and UN Sydney, The Columbian and Havana on Oxford Street are strongly opposed to the curfew.

None of the venues had been approached by the police, despite police saying they would write to all licencees.  And most venue owners and licensees were baffled as to why venues would voluntarily participate, and lose business in the process, when they had security and Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) measures in place.

“We’re not participating because we don’t have any trouble,” a spokesperson from Dragonfly Nightclub said. “We have security all around the club, our staff stick to their RSA and that’s what it’s all about.”

Damon Crawford, general manager of Jacksons on George, refuses to punish shift workers, industry people and responsible late-night punters. “I think our policy, as it is, is right. I don’t think the curfew will solve any problems,” he says.

Although it may seem that the views of clubs and patrons fall on deaf ears, the reality is the opposite. Curfews and other licence restrictions come about through Liquor Accords – an agreement reached between police, licensed venues, the liquor licensing bodies, local council and any other stakeholder groups. Nothing can come of an Accord unless all parties consent.

“The whole idea is to get licensees to want to participate for their own benefit,” Mark Nolan, Public Affairs Manager from the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, says.

In the case of Manly, Hobart and others, the curfew is a series of Liquor Accords with every club voluntarily participating. A compulsory curfew can only be imposed on individual venues if a formal noise or other complaint is lodged. This led to the curfew imposed on Terrigal’s four late-night venues.

Aside from this, a compulsory curfew may be a legislative change, as happened in Queensland, however there has been no indication of this occurring in Sydney’s much larger and more diverse hospitality industry.

Without all players participating, it will be difficult for a compulsory and permanent curfew to take off the ground. Sign petitions, join the Facebook group, vent your spleen; just don’t hold your breath.
Would you support a 3am lockout in a bid to stamp out street violence-
vox pops

Richard, Rushcutter’s Bay
“No, obviously everyone will just be milling around drunk on the streets at 3am – angry because they can’t get into a club or because they can’t get a cab at changeover time.”

Duncan, Bondi
“No, surely there are better ways to stop drunk guys picking fights. That just punishes people like me who work in the industry and like to go out for a drink after work.”

Jemma and Caz, Castle Hill
“Yes it can get pretty foul at that time at night, surely people would just get used to the curfew and plan to stay at a club rather than go to ten different places and cause trouble. And besides, it’s not the end of the world if you have to stay in the one place after 3am.”

Suzie, Meadowbank
“No, I would not feel safe leaving at 3am if I knew there would be heaps of people roaming the streets all looking for cabs and wanting to keep drinking. I feel safer leaving somewhere at 5am when it’s quiet.”

Alex, Avoca Beach
“Since they implemented a curfew on the Central Coast, I have only witnessed more alcohol related drama and violence. People tend to drink excessively before 1am and then roam the streets drunk, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Jen, Wahroonga

“No way, stops all the fun! But I think there are so many causes of street violence; if people want to fight then they will fight, regardless of a curfew.”