Does Melbourne secretly have lockout laws?

Get the latest from Beat


Does Melbourne secretly have lockout laws?

Words by Sidonie Bird de la Coeur

As dictated in Victoria's Alcohol Action Plan, a long-running "freeze on the issue of late night licences" has seen knock-on effects in the nightlife industry. 

As reported by The Guardian, the liquor-freezing laws stipulate that late-night venues are unable to sell alcohol after 1am, unless they have an exception. These exceptions aren’t super easy to get if you’re opening a new venue, with owners almost always having to bank on buying a venue with a pre-existing late-night license.

These kinds of laws in Melbourne aren’t new – they’ve been in place in one form or another since 2008. Introduced as a 2am lockout to combat alcohol-related violence by the premier at the time John Brumby, the regulations saw fines of up to $6900 being handed to venues who breached the lockout. The move was widely unpopular – a protest group called Melbourne Locked Out formed to campaign against the new rules. The 2am lockout laws were quietly retired in September of the same year when the initiative’s three month trial period was over and no conclusive data on its effectiveness could be found.

Stay up to date with what’s happening in and around Melbourne here.

Instead – a late night liquor freeze was put in place “to minimise the social harm from alcohol” by introducing a 1am freeze on the selling of alcohol across inner city councils. It’s not quite a lockout law, but the effects of it have still been harmful – there has been a decrease in active late-night liquor licences from 383 (January 2014) to 337 (July 2022), which is almost 12%. Meanwhile, the population of Melbourne’s metro has grown by 13% in that time.

This is in contrast to the new regulations that were announced in February by the state government, aimed at reforming liquor licensing rules to allow hospitality venues to serve alcohol until 1am under a standard liquor licence, an additional two hours from the previous 11pm regulations. That change was supposed to allow bars, hotels, restaurants and cafes to extend their trading hours from 11pm to 1am automatically, without having to apply for a change to their licence, subject to any relevant council approvals.

Melbourne liquor licensing changes to allow venues to stay open longer

It turns out council approvals are just the tip of the iceberg. Venues such as Coburg North’s The Industrique have had to go to court in order to be granted a late-night license by VCAT – which means the venue is now allowed to serve alcohol until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays and 1am on Sundays. Those legal barriers are a bridge too far for many similar venues, which owners tell us is strangling the industry.

If you need an example of the impact that lockout laws have on the cultural fabric of the city, you don’t need to look any further than the lockout laws that plagued Sydney. Introduced in 2014, the infamously stringent 1:30am lockout laws have seen New South Wales being mocked nationally and internationally as a ‘nanny state’ – as well as costing the city an estimated $16 billion in revenue and seeing a near-destruction of the city’s nightlife. 

With the lockout laws costing venues valuable business, many establishments such as Hugo’s Lounge shut down. Hugo’s Lounge had been an iconic King’s Cross venue for more than 15 years and had been voted Australia’s best nightclub for five years running. With club after club closing in the district, a City of Sydney report saw a decrease of 84% in foot traffic on King’s Street from 2012 to 2015.

Finally, the unprecedented closure of the King Street McDonalds signified the death rattle of a once prolific party strip. The NSW Government took a massive backpedal on their lockout laws in mid-2021 – removing the infamous 1:30 lockout law and replacing it with a blanket ‘last drinks’ rule at 3:30am.

While the Victorian Government’s proposed Creative Slate 2025 recognises that “Victoria’s music sector is recognised globally and Melbourne has earned its reputation as the live music capital of the world,” and that the “creative industries sectors were among the first and hardest hit by the pandemic and among the last to fully return,” it’s the venues in the creative sectors that are hit hardest by these regulations. 

The iconic Melbourne live music venues we dearly miss from the last 30 years

For more information on plans for Melbourne’s music sector, read the Creative Slate 2025 plan here.