Lockout laws put to weekend test

Two licensed venues in Sydney's CBD failed to comply with new state government lockout laws, however business owners and partygoers were generally cooperative in what was described as a “quiet” start to the weekend.

An additional 50 police were deployed in the area stretching from Kings Cross to Cockle Bay on Friday night, as the 1.30am lockout curfew and 3am last drinks laws came into effect.

NSW police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch said it was too early to call the O'Farrell government laws a success, however the night ran smoothly and without many incidents to report.

“Less drunks on the street ... far fewer drunken people on the street, less aggro, less violence, better behaviour,” he said.

There was one arrest issued in the city's biggest party district on Friday night, following a scuffle between two men outside a Bayswater Road nightclub. The 27-year-old assailant will face court at the Downing Centre on March 26 on assault charges.

However, optimism over the new laws was not shared by all members of the community, with nightclub owners expecting significant financial losses as a result.

“It's ridiculous that a venue in Parramatta or even Bondi can stay open later than a Kings Cross venue. This is the hub of Sydney's nightlife,” nightclub mogul John Ibrahim told Fairfax Media.

Mr Ibrahim said the new laws were a rushed solution, which should have been implemented more gradually.

“I understand they didn't have the luxury of time here, but you need to give people time to adjust – business owners, police, patrons, transport services and so on – otherwise it's just not going to be effective,” he said.

Mr Ibrahim doubted the new laws would be effective in combating alcohol-fuelled violence.

Instead Mr Ibrahim backed a “user-pays” police system, whereby business owners – rather than taxpayers – would fund the cost of having extra police deployed in the area on weekends. He also said lockout laws were unnecessary during the week, when the nightlife district was quiet.

Staff at popular Kings Cross strip bar, Dream Girls, estimated they would lose somewhere between $5000-6000 in revenue over the weekend as a result of the new laws.

“If we have a group come in before 1.30 who aren't spending any money, and don't get any other big groups in before the lockout time, then we won't make any money after that time,” one Dream Girls waitress said.

Despite the business owner concerns, bouncers from various nightspots said most hotel patrons were cooperative with the new laws.

“You always get a few people who want to start an argument, thinking you can personally override the rules, but most patrons understood the lockout rules are out of our hands,” security guard George Taulapapa said.

However Mr Taulapapa, who was involved in the resuscitation of king-hit English tourist Elliot Blakely earlier this year, also doubts the new laws will quell violence in the streets.

“People come here to have a good time, we need extra police and sensible drinking habits not unrealistic lock out laws, which just put drunks out on to the streets and in harm's way,” he said.

Among the partygoers left to loiter the streets, were French tourists Clement, Guillame and Josh, who were forced to go home earlier than expected, after leaving a venue unaware of the lockout curfew.

“In France the nightclubs stay open until five or six o' clock, so I was surprised to see the lockout here is so early,” 20-year-old Clement said.

“It's a shame but what can you do, we'll know for next time.”

Police were hopeful patrons would continue cooperating as the laws came up against their first real test at Sydney's Mardi Gras festival on Saturday night – an event which attracts hundreds of thousands of party-goers every year.

Mr Murdoch says venues along Oxford Street – the city's biggest drawcard during the annual gay and lesbian celebrations – were well-equipped to balance the influx of patrons with the new laws.

Non-complying venues could face fines of up to $11,000 or 12 months jail time.

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