Newcastle Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp says the city can be both safe and vibrant at night as the NSW government embarks on dismantling pub and club lockouts.
Mr Crakanthorp has been a vocal supporter of scrapping lockouts and stood beside Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello on Wednesday when he announced the city's 1.30am curfew would be lifted during a 12-month trial to start in the middle of the year.
Mr Dominello told the media that a just-completed trial of later trading hours and looser drink limits in Newcastle's small bars had elicited only one noise complaint and shown the government that the city was ready for a review of lockouts.
He said the new trial would "set the scene" for the NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority, which oversees liquor licence decisions, to consider a permanent end to lockouts on a case-by-case basis.
The first trial included "low-impact" bars and restaurants. The new trial will allow hotels and "public entertainment venues" to admit customers at any time and serve higher-strength cocktails, neat spirits and shooters until closing at 3am or 3.30am, depending on their development consent.
Lockout supporters criticised the move and argued the bar trial was not meant to be a precursor to lifting broader trading conditions, which include lockouts and bans on serving shots and cocktails after 10pm.
Police and nursing unions, Hunter New England Health and leading doctors' groups have opposed relaxing the 13-year-old conditions on the grounds the inner-city's official rate of alcohol violence is still at least four times the NSW average.
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Mr Crakanthorp said on Thursday that the crime statistics "need to be placed in context".
"There are cities and towns of many different sizes around the state posting similar numbers to Newcastle, yet they do not have the restrictions that Newcastle has had for the last 13 years," he said.
"There is only one way to see what happens with the statistics, and if Newcastle is a more dangerous city without lockouts, and that is to have this trial.
"Being a city with large nightlife and a being a safe city are not mutually exclusive. Newcastle can be both, and this trial is our chance to show that."
He said he would have "no qualms picking up the phone" to the minister if he became concerned with how the trial was unfolding.
The government had flagged a review of lockouts "long before the small bar trial was conceived".
"While what we have seen from the small bar trial has certainly been helpful, it is not the catalyst or the sole justification for the trial commencing later this year.
"Having said that, I'm sure that if the small bar trial had been a clear disaster that would have weighed into the government's decision on a new trial."
Inner-city Newcastle and Hamilton are the only parts of the state with lockouts still in place after the government removed them in Sydney's CBD and Kings Cross.
One Nation MP Mark Latham, the chair of the government-run committee overseeing the small bar trial, launched an angry tirade against supporters of lockout laws and the Newcastle Herald at Wednesday's media conference, accusing them of a "shameful" and "terrible slur suggesting the people here are drunks and thugs and can't be trusted as they are in the rest of NSW".
Asked if he agreed with Mr Latham's sentiments, Mr Crakanthorp said: "I can understand why people who were in the city pre-2008 would be concerned about easing the lockout conditions and why they would want them to remain, but we also shouldn't automatically assume that the same thing will happen again.
"There are lots of good people and lots of good venue operators who currently and will continue to do the right thing, and we shouldn't be talking them down."
The members of the committee overseeing the small bar trial were not told about the new trial covering lockouts and larger venues.
Dr Anthony Cook, the inner-city resident representative on the committee, said on Wednesday that the government was hailing the first trial a success before the committee members had analysed the data.
But Mr Crakanthorp said he was "happy with the way feedback has been fed back to the small bar trial committee and the opportunities we have had to ask questions of ILGA, council or police".
"This larger trial was a decision of government, but I think it is a logical and good idea to carry the committee through if all the members still wish to participate."
He argued the lockouts created a "stigma that Newcastle is a dangerous place to be", an image at odds with the "enormous amount of investment and work" put into changing the city.
He said Mr Latham and Mr Dominello had agreed to bringing a health representative onto the trial committee, an oversight which attracted criticism last year.
The government also announced on Wednesday that it would extend the late-trading conditions for the small bar trial until the end of the year. It also acted quickly to establish a legal framework for this extension.
Mr Dominello issued a statement of regulatory intent (SRI) last year which modified ILGA's compliance approach to the liquor licences involved in the trial.
On Wednesday, he updated the SRI, giving the bars nine months' grace to apply for permanent changes to their trading conditions.
Planning Minister Rob Stokes has extended until December 31 a state planning policy which alters City of Newcastle development consent conditions covering the bars' trading hours.
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