Wollongong publicans, bar owners and restaurateurs are hoping the arrival of the 24-hour economy commissioner to the city will bring a united front to issues facing the city's nightlife.
Launched in 2021 with the appointment of Time Out managing director Michael Rodrigues, the 24-hour Economy Commissioner initially oversaw the Sydney 24-hour Economy Strategy, which sought to restart that city's nightlife after years of lock-outs and the COVID pandemic.
Mr Rodrigues's remit was expanded by the Minns Labor government to cover regional centres including Wollongong and local venue owners and event promoters were given the first chance to impress their issues on the commissioner on Tuesday night, July 18.
Illawarra Hotel publican Nikki Atchison said the importance of having someone like Mr Rodriguez meant businesses could put forward a combined front on issues affecting the after-dark economy.
"It means we don't have to fight our own battles, we have a voice of someone taking our concerns and being able to action particular things that are affecting our business, especially late at night," she said.
Mrs Atchison nominated issues with noise restrictions and hiring security guards as two live issues, something that Wollongong bar and restaurant owner Thomas Chiumento also highlighted.
Mr Chiumento said while the requirement to employ a security guard outside his 30-seater bar Night Parrot was waived during COVID, the requirement had kicked back in near the end of 2022, despite the venue never having had an issue with intoxication.
"My business can't afford [hiring a security guard]," he said. "Now I've got to cut costs on my casual and full time staff and increase the cost of food."
Mr Chiumento said he had subsequently worked for six months to have the condition lifted, which was a significant task for a small business.
"It's so hard and time consuming for smaller [venues]."
Surrounded by other venues which also have the requirement for security guards on their licences, Mr Chiumento said forums such as those on Tuesday could provide the impetus for precinct-wide solutions.
"There are three venues within 20 metres that all have security guards," he said. "Why can't it be a security guard fee; instead of individual venues, it's contracted out for the whole street?"
Ms Atchison said similar collective efforts could address challenges such as transport.
"I think if we can make sure that everybody's working together, that would be better for our night-time economy."
In 2022, The Illawarra Hotel was one of several Wollongong venues that rolled out an initiative that would prohibit patrons who had been ejected from one venue from re-entering another.
After more than 12 months of the program, the number of barrings had fallen from up to five a weekend to a maximum of two per weekend. While non-domestic violence assaults in the Wollongong local government area spiked in November 2021, according to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research these assaults had been consistently lower over the past 10 years.
NSW minister for music and the night-time economy John Graham said the expansion of the 24-hour economy commissioner would support the safe return of nightlife after years of disruption.
"Our state's night-time economy has rebounded well from an era of lockouts and lockdowns, but more work is required to get people out after dark and expanding the 24-Hour Office is crucial to this process," he said.
"It was great to hear directly from the community and those people most involved in the sector about what makes their night-time economy different, and what they want for the future."