A lack of new entertainment and dining options in Sydney is holding back the city’s culture and costing it greater long-term prosperity, the new 24-hour economy commissioner has said.

Michael Rodrigues, the former managing director of Time Out Australia, also said Sydney could learn a lot from Melbourne.

As the city slowly returns to what it was before the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, the NSW Government has launched the 24-Hour Economy Strategy which aims to work with local councils and businesses to rejuvenate Sydney as an exciting city for both tourists and locals.

Is it diverse enough to engage people of all ages and all backgrounds?

Integral to the strategy is the appointment of Mr Rodrigues as the city’s first 24-hour economy commissioner, a position he took up last month.

“I described it as generating demand for people to go out and have a good time in the city and that involves many considerations,” he said in an interview with Central News.

“But chief amongst them, have we got the offering in the city? Is it diverse enough to engage people of all ages and all backgrounds?”

Mr Rodrigues said he was focusing on ‘generating demand’ for people to go out by diversifying what Sydney offers and making time spent out more accessible through more transport options.

He added that Sydney should look to Melbourne to inspire us to become a more enticing city.

“The reason I pick on Melbourne is that its demographic is similar to Sydney’s, and they made going out and night-time economy a part of their strategy a number of years ago,” he said. “And having gone and diversified the offering, for example, in central Melbourne, they’ve gone on to hold major events and utilise those CBD and transport options and really that is part of what we’re trying to do now in Sydney.”

One key change already in place as part of the strategy is the reversal of the controversial lock out laws, introduced in 2014, which prohibited patrons entering pubs, bars and clubs after 1.30am. That no longer applies as of  last month and the cut-off for serving drinks has been extended from 3am to 3.30am.

Mr Rodrigues noted the impacts of the laws on Sydney’s nightlife but believes the safety risk has significantly decreased.

“It has shaped how Sydney and New South Wales thinks about the right conditions for going out and how we get to become a global city,” he said.

“In New South Wales, even during that lock out period, we saw a 300 per cent footfall increase in Newtown without a corresponding increase in violence.

“And so I think that the strategy that was launched last year, takes into account the learning from that era and it’s important that we do bear in mind those learnings as we go about rebuilding a new nightlife for Sydney.”

The economy doesn’t go to sleep at night and neither should our laws.

Other reforms to liquor licencing in NSW to help revitalise the CBD economy come into effect today. They include ending the freeze on new licences and making it easier for small bar start-ups to begin trading more quickly.

“We’ve listened to industry and removed outdated and unnecessary regulations. The new rules give businesses confidence and certainty that we are serious about boosting the 24-hour economy,” said NSW’s Minister for Customer Service Victor Mr Dominello.

“The economy doesn’t go to sleep at night and neither should our laws. This is about making life easier for businesses, while also prioritising community safety. These changes will breathe new life into one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic.”

Councils will also be able to designate ‘Special Entertainment Precincts’ where venues have extended trading hours and be exceptions to noise complaint rules. The Inner West Council has proposed the Enmore Theatre become the first of these precincts.

We want more people back in the city, whether that’s working or shopping or coming in for entertainment and dining.

Last week the NSW Government made a further commitment to the CBD economy, investing an additional $20 million into the CBD Revitalisation strategy to help stimulate Sydney’s the area’s economy and boost jobs.

“We need to continue to drive growth in Australia’s global city as we emerge from the pandemic, and today a diverse mix of people came together in Australia’s global city to help make this happen,” NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said.

“We want more people back in the city, whether that’s working or shopping or coming in for entertainment and dining.”

Other government initiatives include the new Dine and Discover voucher scheme. However with Jobkeeper now over, businesses face the possibility of more economic challenges.

Khare Aoun, owner and managing director of Kings Cross Distillery, however, is sceptical: “As they say they are engaged with small business. Instead of them sending out their people on the streets, [they should] actually get it to the community and actually talk to small business like ourselves, and get a real vibe and real connection of what’s happening at the moment.”

Main picture: Kings Cross. Photo: Mark Kriedemann