On the day of submission deadlines to the state’s review into liquor regulations, businessman Matt Barrie has again added his weight to Sydney’s anti-lockout campaign, this time backed up by a hard-hitting 15,000-word report.
In his 70-page submission to the independent review, the entrepreneur and founder of Freelancer.com takes aim at the “stunningly hypocritical” government that applauded Sydney as the safest city in the world four months before enacting laws targeted at “city streets too dangerous to stroll down”.
Mr Barrie made headlines in February when his essay Would the Last Person In Sydney Please Turn the Lights Out? was read more than 950,000 times in a week, became LinkedIn’s most-read article and leapt to No.1 spot on reddit’s Sydney page.
While it helped trigger an avalanche of support for the Keep Sydney Open campaign, which led to a reported 15,000 protesters taking to the streets in support of a vibrant and safe nightlife across the city, it also led to a spate of abuse towards some of the key proponents of the lockouts.
His second essay, The Death of Sydney’s Nightlife and Economic Collapse of its Night Time Economy – allowed as a submission despite being six times the usual world limit – is addressed to “The Hon. Ian Callinan” and was published on LinkedIn on Sunday, the day before the cut-off for the public to have its say into the controversial laws.
In the piece, Mr Barrie cites damning evidence of manipulated data, questionable stakeholder relationships and political gains surrounding the implementation of the laws, which he says have caused a collapse of Sydney’s night-time economy.
Through systematic analysis of figures provided by government agencies, he reports the lockout laws to be a “dismal failure”.
“The regulations around alcohol in NSW have been deliberately designed to damage the balance sheets of commercial businesses, and unduly interfere and restrict personal choice and economic freedom in order to achieve nanny state moral outcomes,” Mr Barrie writes.
He shreds polls, tears apart arguments justified by NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data and highlights what he says are financial and political links between the NSW Liberal Party, St Vincent’s Hospital, The Star casino, Crown Casino and the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation.
Thanks to a steeper fall in foot traffic than hospital admissions, he argues that “you are statistically more likely to be face alcohol-related harm per visit to Sydney’s late night entertainment areas after the lockouts than before”.
Also eviscerated is the Parliament’s role in proceedings leading to the swiftly enacted legislation. On display are Hansard transcripts of debates before changes in liquor laws, in which the argument is framed as a “crown of thorns” issue, whereby the opposition ignored parliamentarians’ concerns for eventual political gain.
The consequences of the “cobbled together” lockouts, those transcripts show, were not unforeseen. The laws have been blamed for a spate of bar, club, restaurant and small business closures in affected areas, including the iconic Flinders and Exchange hotels.
Also in Mr Barrie’s cross-hairs is St Vincent’s emergency doctor and Senior Australian of the Year Professor Gordian Fulde, whose co-authored 2015 paper has come to represent the legislation’s success.
From semantic obfuscations – alcohol-related injuries versus alcohol-caused injuries – to “spurious” data, Mr Barrie claims what he sees as major failings in Dr Fulde’s research.
“Certainly if emergency at St. Vincent’s was a ‘war zone’ as Dr Fulde describes pre-lockout conditions, then the lockout laws must certainly be a failure given the difference in high injury alcohol related admissions is about one patient every two weeks by his very own data.”
Perhaps most damningly, he calls the state’s “Orwellian” Alcohol Linking Program “pure statistical fraud” and a “victim blaming mechanism”.
What should Mr Callinan, repeatedly referred to in the submission as “your honour”, do? Mr Barrie recommends that the reviewer seeks raw data and broadens his scope of the inquiry.
“I wrote this to submit to the Callinan inquiry, which closes today. The sharing is going crazy on social media right now, which is great particularly because it is 70 pages long,” Mr Barrie told Fairfax Media on Monday.
By Monday afternoon, the long-form piece had been viewed about 35,000 times.
“After people have had time to digest what has been written, I think that they will be fairly angry that they have been deceived by the government,” he said. One LinkedIn reader praised the piece as possibly the “most well researched and well-executed piece of social and political commentary” he had read.
“This should be compulsory reading for any person intent on offering an opinion that may shape the future of this debate,” Geraint Coles commented. Tyson Koh of Keep Sydney Open said he hoped the essay would bring the lockout laws front and centre at an important time.
“Matt’s latest piece, like his last one, is well-researched and takes to task various organisations for their wilful misleading of the public on the lockout laws. With Sydney’s reputation on the line we hope the article assists with pushing the debate back into the centre,” he said.
“Until this review, many businesses and citizens have not had a chance to be heard so it’s great that their testimonies can finally be considered. We have faith that the review will be conducted fairly and that all sides will be heard with impartiality.”
A spokesman for St Vincent’s said that Dr Fulde was unable to comment but that the hospital stands by the research showing a dramatic reduction in alcohol related harm, as published by the Medical Journal of Australia.
He added that there has not been a single alcohol-related death at the hospital since lockout laws began and that facial fractures owing to alcohol had dropped off.
Facial fractures are down from 145 in two years prior to lockout laws to 58 in the two years since. In the two years before lockouts, 82 per cent of facial injuries were alcohol related. The figure for the two years after lockouts, he said, was 64 per cent.
The Sydney Business Chamber has called for the state government to “redress the heavy-handedness” of lockout laws.
“We share the NSW Government’s commitment to reducing alcohol-related violence, but it is now time for a more nuanced approach which recognises that Sydney needs a viable night-time economy if it is to remain a global city and Australia’s leading visitor destination,” Executive Director of the Sydney Business Chamber, Patricia Forsythe, said in a statement on Monday.
“The Government’s introduction of lock-out laws in the Kings Cross and CBD precincts in response to a spate of alcohol-related attacks across our city was appropriate at the time and sent a strong message to the community, however it is now clear that this approach is too heavy-handed and adversely impacts businesses to the point of closure.”
On Sunday, Fairfax Media reported that Lord Mayor Clover Moore will recommend to the review that live-music venues and well-managed bars, clubs and pubs should be exempt from the laws.
However, the damage is done, Mr Barrie said. “Truly, this is an absurd situation. There was no intended policy in the first place, just politicking,” his essay concludes.
“This politicking has shut down one of the most famous nighttime cities in the world. The city which is shown first celebrating on New Year’s Eve in news reports around the world.
“The only winners from these laws have been the casinos and property developers, and the biggest losers have been small businesses, jobs, the economy, civil liberties, tourism, and the social, cultural fabric and reputation of Sydney.”
Piece first seen in the SMH