As the nation twinkles its way into the final weekend of Christmas celebrations spare a thought for those of us living in the international city of Sydney — a world of plastic cups, lockouts and bar service stoppages.

The plastic cup rules, introduced on December 1, are part of a new wave of nanny state regulations around drinking recently introduced by embattled new Premier Nathan Rees. They include:

  • Mandatory 2am lock-outs (with the exception of existing members wishing to enter registered clubs);
  • Cessation of alcohol service 30 minutes before closing time;
  • Plastic or polycarbonate glasses for beer service after midnight;
  • No shots and drink purchase limits after midnight; and
  • Ten minute alcohol sale time-outs every hour after midnight.

They certainly make good front page news stories, allowing the new premier to wag his finger at those in the community who get a kick out of glassing someone during a night out in the city — but for the rest of us, the measures are nothing but patronising and credulous.

Police can now be seen regularly entering premises from Bondi to the city, equipped with little video cameras to catch any unsuspecting patron who dares drink out of a glass container after the witching hour of midnight.

Before they turn into pumpkins, fearful publicans and bar staff rush around like Christmas elves transferring schooners and wine glasses into plastic vessels for the ‘safety’ of their patrons.

Crikey went out during the week to witness this world class city with its night-time economy and plastic cups to see how the new regulations were being swallowed by patrons and staff in the heart of Oxford Street.

“At least it makes the work of the bar staff easier,” one bouncer told Crikey late one evening in Taylor Square.

“They can just go around and pick up all the cups in one swoop,” he said.

It isn’t just plastic cups you have to put up with if you happen to be a night owl. On the hour, every hour for ten minutes bars have to close down their service as perplexed punters queue and wait for the service to resume.

“It is certainly bringing out the Christmas joy,” one patron at another Oxford Street hotel told Crikey. “Everyone has their eyes on the clock and as soon as it nears the hour you get countless offers from your mates willing to buy you a drink because they’re racing to get to the bar.”

The band-aid solutions now enforced on a majority of the population who are peaceful in their night-time activities there is pure resentment towards the decision makers.

For John Wardle, the lobbyist behind the Raise the Bar campaign which is working to get a small bar culture back into the Sydney scene, the problems are far more deep-rooted.

“When you’ve got rows and rows of beer taps, violent sports on plasma screens, blaring music and people are losing money with pokies on the side, maybe the problem is about the design of these bars. It shouldn’t be surprising these venues are a recipe for a bun-fight,” he told Crikey.

Wardle is advocating for more alternatives in places where people can go at night in an effort to get a culture that encourages live music, performance and comedy. So far he has been successful in lobbying successive state planning ministers in removing what Wardle refers to as the “notorious Place of Public Entertainment (PoPE) approval process” which he believes discouraged alternative venues and encouraged “aberrant behaviour”.

The absurdity of the previous laws was that a publican could install countless plasma screens and sound speakers without any regulations. If the publican wished to have some live music with a guitarist or jazz band in the corner they would have to get a development consent as well as upgrade their fire safety and construction which may cost up to $300,000.

On the ground change is gradual but slow and the enormous barnyard drinking holes with their televised violence, sports and pokies are still the norm for punters in Sydney.

“We are trying to change a drinking culture decades old with liquor laws designed by people who didn’t think things through properly,” Wardle says.

But the great impetus for politicians such as Rees to introduce these harried regulations is the sudden proliferation over the last twelve months of people glassing each other. In Sydney there was 506 non-domestic glassing attacks in 2007.

Those who work on the ground in the inner city of Sydney all know that a majority of the violence is not caused by the people drinking alcohol, smoking joints or popping a few e’s. This new trend of glassing someone is directly related to the recent proliferation of the real party drugs — ICE and GHB. Put these two drugs into the mix with the barnyard approach to pub design and the results are clear to be seen.

In the meantime, law makers will continue to punish the greater general public and regulate everyone into the ground. So spare a thought and raise your plastic cups for those living in Sydney now that glassing someone is du rigeur all of a sudden. Merry Christmas.