LOCKOUTS have divided Newcastle for more than a decade. News this week that the rules would be loosened in a trial was unlikely to be a unifying moment.
At the announcement, One Nation's Mark Latham unleashed on perceived critics of changes, including this newspaper. He accused them of a "terrible slur suggesting the people here are drunks and thugs and can't be trusted as they are in the rest of NSW".
The critics of the changes include the city's top policeman, the local area health district, medical professionals and community campaigners. It hardly needs saying that all these people deserve more respect.
Drink restrictions and 1.30am venue lockouts will go in the 12-month trial due to start mid-year for venues that apply to participate.
Newcastle Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp backs the government on this issue.
"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," he said.
That is a key point. If it is not a legislated restriction carrying the weight of policing reckless behaviour after dark, that onus shifts back to the vendors and patrons themselves. Personal responsibility is the first step in lieu of lockouts, but it is also incumbent upon venues to show they can operate in a way that will prevent the return of conditions that led governments to impose them in the first place.
The lockouts are undoubtedly a broad stroke policy. Their blanket rules do not discriminate between whether venues are cautious or bend the rules, instead using geography to decide their policies for them. To some, that is unfair and the recent small bar trial delivered minimal evidence of bad behaviour, according to the Minister for Customer Services, Victor Dominello.
However, the speed with which the small bar trial has triggered a wider relaxation of the regulations has raised eyebrows.
Newcastle's Labor lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes is a member of the committee reviewing the bar trial but was not at Wednesday's announcement. She told the Herald that the "finer details of the trial seem yet to be finalised".
"I would have preferred a more consultative approach with the broader community similar to the data and consultation that has formulated the city's after-dark vision and place activation," she said.
It was "imperative", she said, that the community had the data to make decisions based on evidence.
"It's up to visitors, venues and Newcastle people to demonstrate if the lockout laws need to continue," she said.
Cr Nelmes is right. The responsibility is on us all to do the right thing. But there is a responsibility as well as on the government to genuinely consider the evidence of this trial, not just the evidence it prefers.
Lives are at stake.