In the seven years I’ve lived in Sydney, I’ve spent a fair bit of time, and money, in drinking establishments. I’ve seen fights- I even literally got stuck in the middle of one after a guy standing behind me mouthed off to the guy standing in front of me. I’ve seen girls doing racks of coke in the bathroom. I’ve had my arse slapped and my breasts grabbed. I’ve seen people passed out on sofas. I’ve seen girls in screaming matches on the street.
And you know what? Not one of those occasions has been at or around a small bar.
NSW Hospitality minister George Souris’s ludicrous claim that Sydney’s small bar licensing is a cause of violence in King’s Cross is utterly without merit. He provided no evidence that incidents of violence are perpetrated disproportionately- or even proportionately- by small bar clients. He pointed to the ‘proliferation” of small bar licenses around Kings Cross as “one of the causes” of violence without data, statistics or, really, even common sense.
As someone who frequents small bars, let me take the opportunity to describe for Mr Souris the usual small bar crowd. It’s a bunch of people, who’ve often just finished work in the city (quite a few of the bars don’t open on weekends). I might show up a bit early, order a $12 glass of wine (try getting drunk enough to cause violence on that- you’d empty your bank account first), and open a book while I wait for my friends to arrive. I’ll strike up a conversation with the bartender, who might suggest a new wine for me to try. Then my friends will join me, and we’ll have a quiet chat in the not-overly-loud venue, and catch up each other’s lives. Then we’ll get in a cab and go home.
Hardly violence central.
So what’s going on here? It’s pretty clear. The NSW Hospitality minister is cynically using the death of a teenager to promote the agenda of his party’s largest donor, the Australian Hotels Association, who are also large donors to the NSW Liberal Party, and who have fiercely opposed the small bar license. The AHA have everything to gain by turning the focus on to small bars, both because restricting small bar licenses will increase the hotels’ market share and because as long as the focus is on those small bars, it’s not on the big clubs and pubs and the part they play.
So I have a proposed solution to put to Souris and the AHA: how about for the next three months, every time someone is arrested for an alcohol-related incident, they are interrogated as to where they drank. If, at the end of the period, more people arrested drank at small bars, we revoke the small bar license but, if more than twice the number of people drank at big pubs, it’s the pubs and clubs who have their licenses revoked?
Yeah, didn’t think so.
Small Bars have made our city better. They have made it a more pleasant place. It is nice to have a venues to drink in that feel safe, and where conversation trumps loud music and obnoxious DJs. They are not part of the problem and, if anything, are part of the solution: making the culture of our city nicer and attracting a better clientele. I can tell you from personal experience, the Sydney CBD is a far more pleasant experience now in the evening than when the local workers fled and the city filled with people who’d come in to town for a big night out.
But until small bar owners start donating money to the parties in power, they’ll continue to get shafted.