Some candidates in the NSW Election have railed against the state’s red tape and regulations. Picture: John Appleyard
Some candidates in the NSW Election have railed against the state’s red tape and regulations. Picture: John Appleyard

The outrageous rules killing a city

SYDNEY is saddled with a "shopping list of outrageous little rules" that make life a bore for residents and drive tourists away.

That's the view of Tyson Koh, founder of the Keep Sydney Open party, which was formed to fight the city's controversial lockout laws and may emerge as a powerful force in a possible hung parliament after the March 23 NSW election.

Mr Koh said Sydneysiders were being watched over by "Big Brother" and "infantilised" by petty restrictions that included bars banned from playing certain genres of music and police breathalysing kayakers.

"The climate of control in NSW is extreme. When visitors step foot in Sydney they immediately feel that vice like grip," he told news.com.au

Former senator and candidate for the NSW upper house David Leyonhjelm said the rash of ridiculous rules around smoking and cycling was being driven by "disapproval" rather than harm reduction.

Declaring NSW the "nanny state" he railed against the regulations: "It's absurd and it's insulting to a community that comprised of adults."

But NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has insisted the state is doing way with over regulation declaring; "It frustrates me when there's red tape that doesn't need to be there".

Sydney is undoubtedly beautiful but has NSW become the Big Brother state? Picture: Dan Himbrechts
Sydney is undoubtedly beautiful but has NSW become the Big Brother state? Picture: Dan Himbrechts

In a series of articles, news.com.au will delve into the rules critics say stifle the lives of NSW residents and businesses.

We'll look at the festival where ballet was almost banned and the local pub plagued by noise complaints before a single schooner was poured.

And it's shaping up to be a hot topic at the state election later this month. Data from the Australian Electoral Commission has shown more younger people than ever before are on the electoral roll, chiefly due to an enrolment drive before the same-sex marriage vote.

The Liberals say they are already taking steps to slash red tape and have lessened some liquor laws. But other parties say this doesn't go far enough.

SHOPPING LIST OF RULES

Mr Koh said NSW had a history of "stifling ground-up culture" in favour of an "oppressive top-down approach" to regulation.

"The nanny state in NSW didn't start with lockouts laws but they were the trigger to show how much of a nanny state NSW had become," he said.

"There is a shopping list of outrageous little rules and regulations that simply don't need to exist.

"Rules about not being able to have a cocktail or neat whisky after midnight. About having to drink out of plastic cups and certain genres of music.

"They've tried to ban smoking within six metres of someone eating, which has had the outcome of not banning smoking but banning eating."

Mr Koh said he had heard of a security guard being fined because his licence was displayed not on his sleeve, as stipulated, but on his chest.

Tyson Koh founded Keep Sydney Open as a social movement formed in response to Sydney’s lockout laws. Now it’s a political party. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Tyson Koh founded Keep Sydney Open as a social movement formed in response to Sydney’s lockout laws. Now it’s a political party. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Right-leaning think tank the Institute of Public Affairs has estimated red tape reduces Australian economic output by $176 billion, or 10 per cent of gross domestic product. A report by research firm Deloitte Access Economics found Sydney's night time economy was proportionally smaller than other cities and was underdeveloped to the tune of $16 billion.

Indeed, much of the focus on red tape has been on liquor, including the lockouts and bizarre licensing conditions. A 2018 NSW Government inquiry revealed a litany of odd conditions including:

 49 venues in NSW are specifically banned from playing "rock music"

One pub where live music was restricted to "folk music provided by no more than two persons"

 A venue where "no heavy metal, punk, electro/techno, rap or rave music" can be played

 "Drum entertainment groups" were outlawed at another venue

 An RSL had a stipulation that only "old time dance bands" could appear on Fridays.

Close to 700 bars, clubs and RSLs are saddled with wacky rules. Both Labor and the Liberals have said liquor conditions have gone too far.

The Liberals have said they've made it easier for venues to rid themselves of these conditions.

Liquor, Gaming and Racing NSW told news.com.au five bars have had their conditions eased.

Sydney CBD's Civic Hotel can now play "rock and roll music" as can the Bexley North Hotel; the Berry Bowling Club no longer needs to lodge an acoustical [sic] engineer's report to play music; the Coast Hotel Budgewoi need not limit live music to "duos and trios" and can use an amp and the Toukley RSL can now play a full range of musical genres on Friday nights.

However, of the hundreds of venues that can apply for the conditions to be loosened, only 21 venues have done so.

If elected, Labor has said it would simply strike out all the regulations. But the Liberals contend that it would be "irresponsible" not to consult locals and police before ditching bans.

"Labor must explain to the neighbours of those 669 venues why they are being silenced through this lazy one-size-fits-all approach," a spokeswoman for Racing Minister Paul Toole said.

Lockouts were designed to prevent this. Picture: Gordon McComiskie
Lockouts were designed to prevent this. Picture: Gordon McComiskie

BIG BROTHER

In the Sydney CBD lockout zones, violence is undoubtedly down but it has increased in adjacent areas. Critics say the crime reduction is due to a huge reduction in foot traffic and the subsequent closure of many venues.

Keep Sydney Open and The Greens said they will ditch the lockouts laws entirely. Other parties say the community is divided on the issue and are reluctant to fully roll them back.

But while the night-time economy gets all the attention, Mr Koh said the ridiculous rules went far further.

"Police are breathalysing people in kayaks even though there has only been four deaths on rivers, none of them alcohol related," he said. According to Royal Life Saving alcohol is a factor in 27.5 per cent of deaths on water. Between 2005 and 2015 alcohol was "relevant" in the deaths of five kayakers or waterskiers nationwide but it's not know if these were in NSW.

Mr Koh also cited a crackdown on jay walking, which has seen people stung with $75 on-the-spot fines. Authorities say it's worthwhile as the numbers of pedestrians being injured and killed on the roads has risen.

"There's no shadow of a doubt that NSW is more extreme than other states," he said.

"Visitors soak up the beauty but in many cases they don't return because they are being watched by Big Brother all the time".

Neither Mr Koh nor the Liberal Democrats' Mr Leyonhjelm said they were against any regulation, but it should be sensible.

Premier Berejiklian told news.com.au regulation was a balance: "(My) first and foremost responsibility is to protect the community. There's always going to be an argument about how they equates to the right balance. Some people will tell you it's not enough and others will tell you it's too far".

Nevertheless, she said her instinct was to cut regulation.

"I can't handle red tape. It frustrates me when there's red tape that doesn't need to be there.

"We've tried to get rid of processes that are burdensome for people, whether you're a citizen or someone running a business."

Sydney’s wide and open iconic public space of Martin Place has seen smoking banned. Picture: John Appleyard
Sydney’s wide and open iconic public space of Martin Place has seen smoking banned. Picture: John Appleyard

DISAPPROVAL A JUSTIFICATION FOR RED TAPE

Mr Leyonhjelm was the chair of a Senate red tape committee that recommended the federal government measure and reduce over regulation. However, Labor senators on the committee sought to push back on any watering down of tobacco legislation.

Nevertheless, it's an area where Mr Leyonhjelm said the nanny state had gone too far. He zeroed in on $500 fines for vaping in public places and a smoking ban in Sydney's iconic - and very open - Martin Place.

Anti-cancer groups have lauded the bans, citing the harm caused by second-hand smoke, but Mr Leyonhjelm said restrictions had gone too far.

"Even if 20 per cent of people in Martin Place were smoking, you wouldn't suffer any ill effects. There's no evidence for that in the open air," the former federal senator said.

"Rules directed at smokers were once aimed at preventing people from being exposed to secondary smoke. But now restrictions are based on people not wanting to smell smoke or a general disapproval of smoking. And disapproval is now a common justification for red tape and nanny state rules."

Don’t drink and kayak in NSW. Picture: Prime7
Don’t drink and kayak in NSW. Picture: Prime7

Mandatory bicycle helmet laws in NSW also enraged Mr Leyonhjelm, who said they were a deterrent to people actually getting on a bike.

"There's this assumption you can save people from themselves and tell other people what's best for them," he said.

But he added there should be a simple yard stick for regulations: if an individual's actions isn't harming anyone else, it shouldn't be banned.

- Additional reporting by Shannon Molloy.

 

What ridiculous rules in NSW make you seethe? Email benedict.brook@news.com.au

 

… but has also led to this. Closed venues line the strip. Picture: David Swift
… but has also led to this. Closed venues line the strip. Picture: David Swift
Vapers cab fined for $500 for vaping in public space. Picture: Kelly Barnes
Vapers cab fined for $500 for vaping in public space. Picture: Kelly Barnes
Sydney cyclist with a helmet. Model citizen.
Sydney cyclist with a helmet. Model citizen.