Keeping Sydney Open (and the Bastards Honest)

If you’ve been inside a Sydney nightclub at any point in the last decade (or locked outside one more likely perhaps) then you are probably already familiar with Keep Sydney Open (KSO).

The grassroots movement sprung up in opposition to the Baird government’s ‘lockout laws’, which imposed a state-mandated curfew on licensed venues in Sydney’s CBD and primary entertainment precincts following an alleged spike in alcohol-fuelled violence.

KSO has been successful in engaging an often apathetic and self-indulgent generation of Millennial Sydneysiders and throwing some impressive parties, rallies and protests along the way.

Unfortunately, it has had far less success in forcing a repeal of the legislation (though there have been some minor concessions and exemptions from the government).

And so, having failed to force change via traditional lobbying and advocacy, the movement is now considering a tilt at the NSW Upper House, evidently adopting the maxim ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’.

Sydney’s small business owners, hospitality workers and nightlife patrons have much to gain from a more politically influential KSO, but the organisation should heed the mistakes of other passionate single-issue parties.

It need look no further than the Australian Greens.

Having emerged in the early 1990s as a well-intentioned organisation to safeguard the country’s natural beauty and promote the benefits of sustainable development, the Greens subsequently morphed into a generic socialist party with a range of policy positions that are out of touch with mainstream  Australia and  were pretty well discredited in the 20th century.

While most Aussies would probably be warm to the idea of protecting Tasmania’s old growth forests or stopping the endangerment of koalas, they are less likely to support the multitude of Greens policies that expand the role of the government, such as the Renters’ Rights Plan the party proposed in Queensland which effectively does away with private property (a cornerstone of our legal system).

Hence why the party’s support hovers at around 10 per cent of the national vote and is pretty much confined to the inner cities (far from the bush it claims to protect, it must be said).

Keep Sydney Open faces a similar challenge in assembling a policy agenda beyond the lockout laws.

The most compelling argument against the lockouts – and the one likely to have most sway with the MPs in marginal seats KSO will need to have the laws revoked – is that the intervention is an unwarranted foray of the state into the affairs of small businesses.

Mandating the hours of licensed venues means reduced opportunities for these businesses to employ members of the community and to stimulate the local economy. It takes decision-making powers away from business owners and customers and puts them in the hands of politicians – something the Liberal Party and many voters traditionally have little stomach for.

This line of prosecution, supporting the rights of small business and the hospitality industry as well as their patrons, will be the key for KSO to eventually achieve its policy goal.

And yet, I have seen many Keep Sydney Open supporters and volunteers advocating other causes that are akin to the lockout laws in that they give government the power to control local small businesses, such as the notion of banning poker machines and of course, the can of worms that is penalty rates.

If you are against the government dictating opening hours but for the government dictating wages and products then you are part of the problem.

Politicians forcing small businesses to pay their staff certain penalties is quite literally one of the primary issues keeping Sydney closed.

Similarly I have seen KSO posts indicating support for state-funded and state-run cultural initiatives which are also logically inconsistent with opposition to the lockout laws.

KSO should be commended so far for building a follower base from across the political spectrum, standing up for the rights of businesses and citizens and consulting with the public about whether to take this next step.

But if it becomes another movement hijacked by anti-business and trade union interests, nothing more than a hollow receptacle of fashionable but

economically irrational positions, then it will never gain the legitimacy or influence it seeks and deserves.

KSO has my admiration in considering putting its hat in the ring to contribute more formally to the policy process and keep the bastards honest.

It might yet have my vote as well.