Lockout Laws, Licensing and the 21st Century

Many Aussies who have travelled abroad wonder why it is that restrictive licensing practices apply in parts of Australia which would be unthinkable in some other countries.

The 1916 riots

Many of us will have learned in school about the 1916 military riots in Sydney that are sometimes called “The Liverpool Beer Riots” or “The Battle of Central Station”.

In case you missed that lesson, the said riots started when some soldiers became upset at the extension of the hours they were expected to put into training. Many of them left military camps around the city, determined to go out and have their beer.

As the situation escalated out of control, an estimated 15,000 soldiers rampaged through Sydney and its surrounding areas, engaging in mass alcohol theft, drinking, vandalism and violence.

It took a considerable time and eventually the use of live ammunition, with one rioter killed, before order was restored.

The event shocked the whole of Australia at the time and led to an immediate passing of incredibly restrictive alcohol sales laws and the forced closure of pubs at 6.00 PM. That in turn though simply resulted in the infamous “Six O’clock Swill”.

The situation whereby alcohol sales were tightly regulated in terms of closing hours continued into the latter twentieth century.

Times change

Of course, things have changed since then and the laws are a lot more relaxed now.

Even so, in some states of Australia or local districts, opening hours continue to be limited by the standards of many other countries.  The debates in this area usually revolve around a number of difficult social and political issues:

  • The preservation of Sunday as a special day
  • Concerns over city centre crime late at night or early in the morning
  • Some residual concerns relating to standards of personal behaviour and comportment.


It isn’t our intention to make a stand one way or the other on licencing hours.

What we perhaps should be asking though is why many other countries appear to be able to avoid social problems even in situations where access to bars, pubs and other drinking establishments is much more easily available and virtually 24×7.

It might be possible to consider that the real issue is not licensing hours but actually cultural values which, for a tiny minority, link a night out to bad behaviour.

It’s a debate that is on-going at the time of writing, for which no conclusion has been reached.  Let’s hope the discussion looks at broader issues and not just licensing hours.

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