In Feb 2014, the New South Wales state government introduced what’s become known as the “lockout laws“.
The laws came about as a result of instances of alcohol-induced violence that ended in tragic deaths in King’s Cross, and they imposed sweeping restrictions on inner-city venues (apart from the casino) that included a 1:30 am lockout. So what changed? Well, culture—live music, art, theatre etc.—and the venues that dedicated their existence to housing it were squeezed to absolute breaking point, with countless venues and places for young people and ideas to congregate closing down and being cordoned off. Tyson Koh, local media personality who, among other things, produced the iconic Rage for the ABC, wasn’t having it. So, he started Keep Sydney Open, a movement that’s been gaining momentum since its inception, and today announced its official registration as a state political party in NSW.
It was around lockout time that I decided, right, the battle’s lost, I’m not from this city, I don’t have enough invested here, I want to live somewhere where culture, diversity and young people are valued, I’m out. Tyson Koh however, decided that the city meant too much to him to concede defeat, and started a movement that’s had real results in pushing back against the nanny state. “NSW is broken and sorely lacking in innovative fresh ideas that put people first instead of developers and big business,” said Koh at the time. Following in the tradition of Australia’s rich activist history, the group started kicking up a stink wherever possible, throwing parties, organising marches, utilising modern media outlets and making it unmistakably clear to the powers that be, that there are still people in Sydney who value culture and freedom. Furthermore, that they weren’t going to lie down and abide by the increasing number of laws that make it easier for a few to short-sightedly monetise what, one has to admit, is a hell of a piece of real estate.
Keep Sydney Open is not about the freedom to drink alcohol. It’s about opening Sydney up, making it an international, culturally vibrant city, and making people of all creeds, colours and salaries feel welcome. “KSO was founded to challenge the lockouts, but in that process we opened up a whole other can of worms on other issues,” Koh said in one of his KSO video blogs. “About planning laws, about corruption, about overdevelopment, about how we value arts and culture in this city.”
The lockout laws have gone further than closing a few pubs. They’ve clipped the wings of one of Sydney’s most vibrant scenes on Oxford Street—the beacon of acceptance for Sydney’s thriving LGBTQ community—they’ve closed down music venues that have given birth to bands like Midnight Oil, INXS, Cold Chisel, and many others who we claim to be proud of. It’s ruined the livelihoods of countless numbers of venue owners and people who’ve dedicated their lives to fostering the arts.
And what’s the fallout for the men who implemented these laws, disgraced former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell and Mike Baird? Well, Barry collects a $150,000 taxpayer-funded pension and $300,000 plus from Racing Australia, and Mike, he stumbled into $1.7 million a year for a cushy exec job at NAB of course (obviously discounting bonuses). Want to bring in some laws? Try the least policed revolving door in the Australian workforce, the one between the public and private sector.
So what does the next phase for KSO look like? Well, after six months negotiating the deliberately testing process of party registration in NSW, Keep Sydney Open will now contest seats in both houses of Parliament in the 2019 NSW state election, looking to further their completely sane policies of recognising the arts, implementing a 24-hour public transport system, making pokies a thing of the past and most importantly, advocating intelligent decision-making based on scientific evidence. “We all know that Sydney is a magical place, but the magic has been missing for some time,” Tyson said in a statement released today. I’ve got nothing but admiration for the firey resolve and relentless graft that Tyson and the rest of the party have put into Keep Sydney Open, and fully endorse what they stand for. What was it about evil prevailing when good men (and women, 2018) stand around and do nothing?