How Data Scientists Unlocked Sydney’s Nightlife

How Data Scientists Unlocked Sydney’s Nightlife

As a born and bred Sydney-ite I’ve seen it all! I was fortunate enough to spend my 20’s enjoying bars, restaurants, clubs, pubs and festivals without ludicrous restrictions. Visiting a bar at 2am to catch up with friends was a very normal occurrence for me—a privilege which I enjoyed on weekends without a single thought.

Now a much more family orientated 35 yr old, I’ve still remained extremely passionate about Sydney’s nightlife, or lack thereof. You see by the time I hit my thirties, I had hosted hundreds of public music events, purchased a Kings Cross burger/bar restaurant, and in turn rallied with the best of them, to KEEP SYDNEY OPEN. Despite being very active in Sydney’s nightlife economy, I still remain adamant that I’ve seen more violence at Castle Hill Tavern on a Tuesday afternoon than I have seen at a thousand Sydney-based licensed events in over 15+ years: the punter, turned promoter, turned venue owner. 

The Sydney lockout laws were introduced by the NSW Government in 2014 as a response to decrease Sydney’s alcohol-fuelled violence. This law required alcohol licensed premises to stop patrons from entering after 1:30am. At the time, I must admit, I didn’t truly see this as an extremely detrimental issue. Most people tended to venture home around that time anyway, so what harm could this really cause? 

What I’ve come to understand is that the implementation of these laws triggered the death of Sydney culture as we knew it. Music, restaurants, cafes and even retail establishments were not free from the path of destruction. 

In an interview by Sydney Morning Herald, Clover Moore, Sydney Mayor, said that 500,000 fewer visitors per year are visiting the city than prior to the lockout laws, and 50% of the city’s venues have already closed!

With Sydney recently voted in the cellar for global nightlife in a poll by Time Out Magazine, it’s not surprising that tourists strongly prefer Melbourne. Over time the dramatic impact on the nighttime economy was a slow burn. Removing the business trade at 1am caused people who would ordinarily be around at midnight to stop venturing out and spending money at small businesses, because the overall vibe of the city was gone. Lacking midnight trade then affects dinner trade, dinner trade affects afternoon trade, and so on. 

How data science helped unlocked the great city

The Centre for Translational Data Science at University of Sydney played an important part in the decision-making process of revoking the lockout laws. The team was engaged to facilitate, collate and analyse data to determine if these laws actually had a positive effect on society.  

The New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) had claimed that Sydney’s lockout laws reduced non-domestic assaults by 13% in the CBD.  However, its calculation method was underpinned by an allocation of 1,837 assault offences to both Kings Cross and the CBD, effectively double-counting the data. A new analysis by the University found the allocation decision misled the State’s statisticians when actually there was no decrease in CBD assaults.

Led by Professor Sally Cripps, the researchers used a probabilistic, Bayesian mathematical model to examine non-domestic assaults across specific areas to assess the effectiveness of the lockout laws across space and over time.  The model used data from NSW BOCSAR from 2005 through 2017.

Results of the new analysis showed that the impact of the laws was not consistent across the areas of implementation. While violence in Kings Cross was reduced by the introduction of the lockout laws, the analysis showed that lockout laws had no significant impact on non-domestic assaults in the CBD. Such assaults have been decreasing in the CBD since 2008, with a significant drop in 2011, two and a half years prior to the lockout laws’ enactment.  The new analysis results also suggested that there was no evidence that the lockout laws had pushed violence from the CBD and Kings Cross into other areas.  

Other criticisms of BOCSAR’s original data analysis were levelled regarding the quantification and explanation for uncertainty to the public and to policy maker.  Greater transparency and better independence in the analysis were recommended.


The aftermath

The data scientists presented their results to the NSW Parliament Joint Select Committee on Sydney’s Night Time Economy in August 2019, and Parliament relaxed the CBD laws three months later with effect starting in January 2020.  As international tourism has been hurt by word of the bushfire smoke haze and ongoing concerns for coronavirus, the city is working to get its night-time mojo going and to restart late night culture.

So, the next time you’re dancing the night away in Sydney’s centre, raise a glass to the data scientists who did the detailed mathematics and helped re-open the city.

Read The Conversation on this research here

Read the full report to Parliament here 


Guest Author – Tennille Scicluna


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