By Mark Bouris, News.com.au
IF YOU thought lockout laws were ridiculous, get a load of these draconian laws. Businessman Mark Bouris has finally had enough.
THE world is laughing at Sydney. The big joke is we’re killing ourselves.
I’ve lived 61 years in this town and I’ve never seen rules and regulations like they are today. As a society this is something entirely within our control, yet this country — and specifically Sydney — has cocked it up big time.
Case in point: Antonio Ruggerino. Antonio is one of the hardest working Aussies you’ll ever meet. He’s the owner and chef at Verde restaurant in East Sydney. Every Day this guy busts his ass in the kitchen while also running the business. He’s the definition of hard work.
Through a friend, Antonio reached out to me because of all the bullshit Sydney City Council has been giving him over minor infractions of the most ridiculous rules.
He was one of my guests on my podcast and the interview hasn’t stopped bothering me, so I’m writing it down and putting it out there to get my message across to those in the driver’s seat.
Here’s a few to think about:
Outdoor seating: Tables put out 10 minutes before the permitted time resulted in a fine of $4,500 — that’s $450 a minute! How much profit do you think a cafe makes in a week? I’d confidently say that most cafes would be in negative territory having copped a fine like that.
Liquor licence: A $7000 fine for not having a liquor licence properly on display. To be clear, the fine wasn’t for not having a liquor licence; it was for not having it displayed in the correct place. Where was it, you ask? Hanging in the office right next door, a few mere feet from where local government officials required it to be.
Security: After 11pm, it’s mandatory for security to be on the door, but if you know business you’ll know restaurateurs operate at some of the lowest profit margins around. So what you call security, I call an extra wage. Definitely a “nice to have” but not always feasible. Besides, whether you feel secure at an establishment should be entirely in the hands of the consumer — not the business.
Video: Antonio is required to run and diarise 10 cameras that record for at least 28 days in his restaurant. A few months ago, Antonio was told he had the wrong recording equipment and was required to purchase a high-end DVR for $2,200 to correct the issue. Not only did he have to outlay on expensive equipment but he now needs to check each camera at least once a day to make sure it works properly, or run the risk of being fined yet again.
Lockout laws: Since lockout laws came into effect, the vibrant village of East Sydney no longer attracts young people looking for a good meal before moving on to a pub or club. Why? Because there are none anymore! The state government made sure of that.
When listening to Antonio speak I realised that policy makers aren’t the only problem. Local and state government workers at the coal face are also contributing to the situation. What I’m hearing time and time again is that fines and sanctions are being handed out too easily and sometimes with glee. These guys are being improperly incentivised to hit business owners where it hurts.
Sydney is failing where other cities are leaping ahead.
While there have been comparisons with Melbourne for years, even cities like Adelaide are prioritising small businesses and the city’s night-life, making it a much more vibrant place to live and do business in.
Brisbane too has looked to Melbourne for inspiration, and is making it easier for new small bars to operate, and attracting new patrons into the city: good for business and good for customers.
There’s an obvious disconnect between Sydney businesses and the people who govern them. If we’re going to improve as a city we need to change these laws, and quickly.
A City of Sydney spokesperson said: “Regulations and fines are both set by the NSW State Government. There is no incentive for City of Sydney staff to issue fines.”
They added the City “does not issue fines for one-off issues”.
The spokesperson said: “The City takes an educational approach, starting with warning letters and escalating to more serious enforcement action should the circumstances require it. We have a responsibility to maintain the health and safety of businesses, customers and residents.
“The City is obliged to investigate all complaints it receives from the public and will give the business every opportunity to meet the relevant conditions before taking any enforcement action.”
Mark Bouris is host of The Mentor podcast on available on Podcast One. You can listen to the full podcast with Antonio Ruggerino here.
Mark Bouris is managed exclusively by The Fordham Company.