05 February 2016
by Daisy Dumas

Matt Barrie's tirade against Sydney's night-time lockout laws touches a raw nerve

Matt Barrie, the head of Freelancer.com, is one of Australia's most successful entrepreneurs.

In a blistering attack on a succession of "incompetent" NSW governments, one of Australia's most successful entrepreneurs has lamented the death of Sydney's night-time economy at the hands of leaders whose "moralistic crusade" has turned the city into an "international joke".

Matt Barrie's essay, Would The Last Person in Sydney Please Turn The Lights Out, has gone viral, with more than 200,000 readers in under 24 hours, a global ranking of No.1 on LinkedIn and most-read on Sydney's reddit site.

In the 8400-word LinkedIn feature, the head of Freelancer.com cites a grim set of statistics that paint a picture of Sydney's mortally wounded nightlife, once-famous bars that have been forced to close, near-empty former night-time precincts and a neighbourhood that is now the playground of property developers.

From declines in foot traffic of up to 84 per cent in Kings Cross, to the downfall of more than 40 nightlife venues, the city has lost the sheen and fun-loving character it once had, the businessman says.

Mr Barrie said that the article had "clearly hit a nerve", tapping into an "extremely strong undercurrent of public sentiment".

Closed: DreamGirls on Darlinghurst Road in Kings Cross.

"The Premier of Victoria tweeted it. Victoria knows how to build a cultural and social fabric for their society," he said via email.

"No matter what happens, the city has turned into Detroit. Even if they dropped the laws, the damage has been done. This is what happens when a state gets taken over by a cabal of zealots whose only policy is religious ideology."

A vast tract of inner-Sydney nightlife has withered under a raft of damaging alcohol regulations, he writes in the essay, slamming lockout laws for what he estimates to be the loss of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars from the local economy.

Once popular hotels have closed down.

"The total and utter destruction of Sydney's nightlife is almost complete," he writes, blaming what he claims to be inaccurate research and fudged figures for fear-mongering and regulatory changes.

"A special little person has decided that there is a certain time at night when we are all allowed to go out, and there is a certain time that we are allowed into an establishment and a certain time that we are all supposed to be tucked into bed.

"It is now illegal to buy a bottle of wine after 10pm in the City of Sydney because not a single one of us is to be trusted with any level of personal responsibility.

Blamed: NSW Premier Mike Baird.

"Likewise it is now illegal to have a scotch on the rocks after midnight in the City of Sydney because someone might die. You can drink it if you put some Coca-cola in it, but you can't drink it if the Coca-cola has been mixed previously with it and it's been put in a can."

Omitted from the zone where "fun is illegal" is, he notes, The Star casino and the new James Packer-backed Barangaroo development, where a $2 billion mega casino will open in 2020. Both are in the advantageous position of holding 24-hour liquor licences.

But perhaps most scathing is his tirade against the way the Liberal government has treated its once-nightlife-loving citizens, visitors and businesses, which, he suggests, is tantamount to social manipulation.

Matt Barrie posted a series of photos to show the declining vibrancy of Sydney since lockout laws were introduced.

"You've been tricked into thinking that you have done something wrong, in some way that you are genetically an idiot, or that somehow you have to feel responsible for a couple of random tragic, yet unrelated, events that occurred in the vague proximity of having fun," he writes, referring to the single punch deaths of Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie, after which Sydney's nightlife laws were promptly and radically restructured.

He is not alone in his views, he adds, citing Monocle editor Tyler Brulee's judgment of Sydney's drinking laws and Russell Brand's summation of Sydney's "ridiculous" rules.

But the heavy-handed regulations extend well beyond Australia's largest city's after-hours leisure and into its daytime play, too.

Award-winning Hugo's Pizza is no more.
The result, Mr Barrie writes, is a city in which it is harder to buy a drink than in Pyongyang, where poolside sunbathers are subjected to patrols by police sniffer dogs, where an "aquatic licence" is necessary for a casual beach party and where even workouts in parks are objected to and regulated.

He advocates for a night mayor - as in some of the world's most vibrant cities - and points out that Sydney ranks lower than Bordeaux, France, or Lausanne, Switzerland, for crime.

"If the government was truly interested in your safety and not purely on a moralistic crusade, there are plenty of other things that are more dangerous to your health. Did you know that on average an Australian dies every three days in Thailand? You are far more likely to die falling over, out of bed or off a ladder than in anywhere near a licensed venue in Sydney."

The blame for the nanny state totalitarianism that has squashed Sydney into a shadow of its former self? It lies squarely in Premier Mike Baird's hands, Mr Barrie writes.

"Sydney, once the best city in the world, has become an international joke thanks to the NSW Liberal government."