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Overregulation Turns Sydney into International "Laughing Stock"

American city officials, take note: Sometimes the remedy to a purported problem is worse than the disease. This is a lesson fans of Sydney’s once vibrant nightlife are beginning to learn. After the punching deaths of two teenagers and immense public outcry, officials sought to address the issue of drug and alcohol-fueled violence by banning takeaway alcohol after 10:00 pm throughout New South Wales and creating “CBD Entertainment Precincts.”

Bars, clubs, and music venues within these zones would, among other things, be forced to turn away new patrons after 1:30 am and stop serving alcohol after 3:00 am. Prior to implementation of these “lockout laws,” venue owners warned that it would devastate the area’s social scene and even force many of them to go out of business. It turns out this wasn’t just reactionary hyperbole.

In a post that has gone viral, Matt Barrie, Chief Executive at Freelancer.com, details how much damage lockout laws have done, and describes a Sydney that seems utterly abandoned.

From 2012 to 2015 … Kings Cross foot traffic was down 84 per cent as 42 bars, clubs and small businesses closed as takings fell by 40 per cent or more. Foot traffic in Oxford St is likewise down 82 per cent. This is already on top of a drop of up to 60 per cent which occurred from 2010 from 2012 as the increasing regulation kicked in … On Saturday nights tumbleweeds blow across the main entertainment precincts for Sydney…

Venues that were once staples of the city are now closing their doors, not just for the 3:00 am lockout, but permanently. Notable losses include the “swankiest” bar in Sydney, Hugo’s Lounge, which took the prize of best pizza shop in Australia at the National Restaurant and Catering Awards and was deemed “the World’s Best Pizza” at the American Pizza Challenge in New York. Hugo’s closed down last summer with the owner blaming the restrictive rules. Manager Dave Evans noted that “stringent conditions … crippled our business [and] we have seen turnover drop in the Cross by 60 per cent.”

By some accounts, assaults are down 40 percent in the city. But that might not be worth the price for many lamenting the loss of their city’s nightlife. As Elizabeth Farrelly at the Sydney Morning Herald put it, “[Even if] the legislation has worked, the cost may be more than we should pay.” But despite the city government’s insistence that the lockout laws are working, they may only be displacing crime, not reducing it. After all, if you push the people who might perpetrate a crime into other areas, they’ll just commit the crimes elsewhere, which is what early reports seem to indicate is happening.

So, is the “total and utter destruction of Sydney’s night-life” worth it? Some people think we should do whatever it takes to reduce violence. Shutting down a city at 3:00 am, forcing businesses to close, compelling visitors to spend their money and time somewhere else—it’s all worth it to stop a few drunken idiots from causing trouble in our town. Of course, by that logic we could drastically reduce noise complaints by banning businesses that make a lot of noise in an area by having fewer restaurants or decrease the number of kids injured at school by prohibiting them from playing.

These examples might seem drastic, but they’re already happening. Despite the danger-loving, hard-drinking reputation of its residents, over the decades Australia has enacted an ever growing web of oppressive regulations meant to save Australians from their own dumb choices. The country has been described as “one of the most rule obsessed and bureaucratic places.” From compulsory bicycle helmet laws, a practical nationwide ban on e-cigarettes, ineffective plain packaging rules that force Soviet-style packaging on cigarettes (and suggestions that they ought to do the same for alcohol and fast food), and even a meat tax, Australian lawmakers are hell-bent on stopping Australians from doing anything that might potentially harm them.

But many Australians seem to have had enough. Critics of the “lockout” laws savaged the Facebook page of New South Wales Premier Mike Baird. His “aggressive” responses to the more than 15,000 comments only made matters worse, with some businesses in NSW now denying him entry and people questioning the effectiveness and motivation behind the new rules. As one Sydney business owner noted:

“I like you a lot as a premier, but you’re just flat out NOT telling the truth. Of course confining people to their homes reduces violence,” one Sydney business owner wrote to Baird on twitter. “But violence per capita is up, it’s increased according to BOSCAR in surrounding suburbs and violence at the Star Casino is also up. You’re also ignoring the fact that violence was trending downwards anyway.”

Star Casino, mentioned in the tweet, is one of the State’s most violent venues, yet it was conveniently excluded from the new rules, which has been a huge boon since patrons kicked out of clubs and bars often migrate to the casino for early-morning partying. Certainly, it has nothing to do with the fact that Baird’s party has received untold millions from the casino industry over the years.

Has all this made Sydney a “laughing stock” throughout the world? I’m not sure, but certainly the backlash hasn’t done anything good for the nation’s reputation. While it used to be considered a prime destination for fun in the sun, the land of Oz now just seems like the land of the fun police. Australians, fed up with this suffocating coddling, are sending a message to their government. Hopefully, it is one heard by would-be nannies around the world.