WITH coronavirus putting the economy into intensive care, a push has emerged to drop or dramatically loosen Newcastle's 12-year-old late-night liquor laws, ostensibly to help the "low impact" end of the industry, or the "small bars".
On Tuesday, Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes had an opinion piece published in the Newcastle Herald, describing the evolution of the city, saying that "Novocastrians no longer want booze barns ... those days are behind them".
Yesterday, the Berejiklian government's Customer Services Minister, Victor Dominello, came to visit, along with One Nation MLC Mark Latham.
The firebrand former federal Labor leader was on a parliamentary committee that paved the way for a loosening of the Sydney lockout laws (introduced to cope with similar problems to Newcastle's) that began at the start of the year.
Together with Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp, they said they were here to look, listen and talk with all sides of an often fractured and divisive debate.
The example raised yesterday was of sophisticated overseas tourists, unable to get a cocktail after 10pm, and shown the door when the small bar they are drinking in with their Hunter hosts closes at midnight.
Was this the image of Newcastle we wished to present to the world, they asked?
To which almost everyone would say, of course not.
At the same time, however, it's not the allegedly repressive liquor laws that have decimated the city's "late-night economy".
It's COVID-19. It has hammered the hospitality industry, sending the city's youth unemployment rate soaring to a staggering 26.8 per cent.
Allowing small bars to trade a few hours longer may not provide a massive boost to the economy but right now, every job counts.
It emerged yesterday that at least some small bars close at midnight because that's when their development approvals (DAs) with Newcastle council oblige them to shut.
That, then, looks like an immediate avenue for action.
Longer term, the presence of the Australian Hotels Association at yesterday's meeting with Mr Dominello indicates the "big bars", as well as the small ones, are pushing for change.
For consistency, the government will have to look at whether "the evidence' - so often used to justify COVID policies - supports what the lord mayor and the bar owners are seeking.
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