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.

Why conservatives should vote Yes

Statistically, some of you reading this will be thinking of voting No in Australia’s same-sex marriage plebiscite.

Of those, a small number simply don’t like gays and don’t want them to be happy. Hate can’t be reasoned with, so if that is an accurate description of your worldview you might as well stop reading now.

But unlike some in the Yes camp, I know there are other No voters who aren’t just bigots and homophobes but have genuine and rational concerns about religious freedom and legal precedent.

A common argument I hear (whispered, rather than proclaimed, so as to avoid social media ostracism) is that if we allow same-sex marriage to occur, then we will set a precedent for government to force private religious institutions to adopt the secular position and reduce religious rights in the country.

Well I agree with you that a church or mosque or temple should not be forced to marry same-sex couples, nor should an evangelical pastry chef be forced to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

But the government is not a business or a private religious institution. It has to treat taxpayers equally and should not be allowed to discriminate.

Arguably the government should play no role in marriage at all, leaving it to be a private or religious matter rather than a revenue-raising opportunity for the nanny state.

Again, I agree in theory. But it’s too late for that. Now that it is a function of the secular state it needs to be applied equally to all people.

If conservatives don’t like that, they only have themselves to blame.

It isn’t widely known that the Marriage Act 1961 never actually specified that marriage should be confined to heterosexuals. That didn’t come until 2004, when the Howard government amended the Act to align it with the traditional definition.

If the Christian lobby feels so strongly about the definition of marriage, then it never should have let its mates in Parliament get involved. Instead, it supported and lobbied for Howard’s redefinition.

Or, to put it another way, it supported government intervention and regulation – something conservatives usually oppose.

If ‘crony capitalism’ is the state doing deals with corporations in contravention of the free market then this is ‘crony culturalism’.

Getting the government to protect the definition of marriage to the exclusion of others is no different from getting the government to protect a certain industry or sector of the economy.

It enhances the role of the state in peoples’ lives and allows politicians to pick winners and losers.

This sets a far more dangerous precedent than allowing same-sex couples to marry ever could.

The idea that religious freedom needs to be protected is sound. But that is not the question we are being asked.

Voting Yes is not only the right thing to do on a moral level. It is the right thing to do if you believe in limited and accountable government.

Author’s note: This article has been amended to remove the phrase “just as a Jewish deli should not be forced to make a sandwich for a Nazi”. It was not the author’s intention to in any way equate gay people with a murderous, fascist regime.