From French winemakers turned away at The Gresham to mums refused entry to The Bowery’s Wednesday jazz night, the Queensland government’s ID scanning laws have been causing problems all over the city. Added security costs cripple laid-back Dungeons & Dragons nights, and huge lines outside of venues rile Friday night post-footy crowds.
A week after the laws’ July 1 introduction, Broadsheet talked to Jamie Webb after the Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall owner blasted them in a viral Facebook post. “These things are just going to take Brisbane back to the ’80s,” he said at the time. “Long taxi lines, punch-ons, people queueing to get into venues. All to stop a grand total of 100 people state-wide with banning orders.”
A month on we wanted to know, how are operators travelling with the new legislation? Bar and club owners and managers are, after all, on the front lines, managing punters whose nights out have been fundamentally changed.
Interestingly, some people we spoke to didn’t have an issue with the principle of the scanners. It’s the implementation that’s the big problem, as well as privacy concerns.
Also disappointing has been the lack of consultation with the people who know most about what works and what doesn’t in Brisbane’s venues. As one operator told us: “To be honest, in this conversation you’ve already done a lot more consultation with the people affected by these laws than the government ever has.”
So we gathered together some venue operators and asked them a simple question:
“Are Queensland’s ID scanning laws killing Brisbane nightlife?”
Their answers, presented below, have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Chris Denman – Tomcat
“Personally, I think the scanners themselves are a brilliant idea, it’s just been very poorly executed. There are much larger line-ups and people getting impatient and everything that comes with that. The threat to privacy is real because of the way the system has been rushed in – there are so many access points. From the best the industry can tell this looks like the government trying to shut down The Valley after midnight, so when the Queens Wharf Project come into effect there’ll be no competition. Really the scanners have been brought in under a fallacy; of the 10 noted one-punch incidents in memory, nine of the people had never even set foot in a venue that night. While we’re locking everything down, Melbourne is currently trying to push for 24-hour public transport and 24-hour licences so they don’t have people leaving bars en-masse onto the streets.”
Jamie Webb – Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall
“It’s been hugely damaging – people get frustrated in the line and take it out on the staff, it’s a tense situation. I’d like to see people being able to get pass-outs and only have to be scanned once; I’d like to see venue operators being able to scan people and not having to hire security. Our security fees have practically doubled, and I don’t see what it’s even doing because if someone’s got a banning order they can still come in before 10pm, or they can walk across the street to a venue that’s only licenced until midnight and do whatever they want.
If they’re going to persist with this scanning model they’ve got to be consistent and make sure that every licenced venue, no matter what time they close, is scanning people. People can go anywhere to get alcohol – they can go to the casino without being scanned, of course. Should you be scanning people when they buy booze at a bottle shop? What about alcohol-related domestic violence? This does nothing to address what are far more pressing issues for Australia.”
Alex Farquhar – The Caxton Hotel
“Obviously, because of where we are, right next to one of the biggest sports stadiums in the country, it’s been a bit of a nightmare on game nights. We've already seen a lot of issues with Origin. Council granted us until 11pm after we asked for a complete exemption. That helped but there were still huge crowds on the street.
I don’t know that I believe it’s doing anything to stop any kind of violence. I'm on the board for Caxton Street venues and we've been having meetings with council and liquor licensing, and violence has consistently gone down in every quarter report I’ve seen. A lot of us don’t necessary think the scanners are a bad thing. But we've always said, ‘Wait until midnight’; by that time everyone who's just after a drink after dinner will have likely gone home. I don't know where this 10pm idea came from.”
Noah Honeywill – The Brightside
“The main impact for us has been the cost. The scanners need to be operated by a licenced security guard. So, for example, on Tuesday nights we have a night called Dungeons and Dragons where we have about 20 people in playing games. They don’t drink very much, but if we wanted to have people there past 10pm we’d have to hire a security guard for at least four hours. So we’re having to end it early and less people are coming. On the weekend we had a Harry Potter trivia night with maybe 150 people, and the guard had to go use the bathroom so I had to hold the line to wait for him, which kept so many people waiting. It’s also extremely inefficient. For the first week I was with the guard scanning the IDs to see how it worked and it was just ridiculous how many wouldn’t scan or you have to enter manually.”
Pixie Weyand – The Zoo
“We’ve seen a lot of negative effects of the scanners. For example on Thursday night, it’s not a big night for us but that’s when we like to showcase a lot of local bands and acts. Usually it’d finish up around 11pm, but now we have to shut at 10pm because we can’t afford to have a security guard on for four hours. We’re having to turn people away all the time. People get frustrated because we don’t have a smoker’s area in the venue so if we have a couple of hundred people inside that’s a lot of people going out for a smoke and having to line back up all over again, even if they’ve been scanned and got a stamp. We have a licence until 2am but we’re considering turning in our licence and shutting at midnight. It’s just sad for a venue that’s been open for 25 years and never had a real incident.”
Martin Lange – Cobbler and Savile Row
“For us it hasn’t been such a big deal because we’re a small bar and usually reach our capacity on weekend nights, so what we’ve seen is the line slowing down, which can be helpful for the bartenders. We do find some customers absolutely hate it, especially older patrons who aren’t used to carrying ID around. The main thing is the cost – it wouldn’t be so bad if a manager or bartender was allowed to do the scanning, but we have to hire a security guard. The only thing that will help is more education and more support for people outside the bars – we’ve been teaching responsible service of alcohol for decades, we have security, for the most part people in bars know how to behave. It’s people on the street that cause the problems, and placing restrictions on bars isn’t going to help that.”
Dave Flynn – The Flying Cock
“The concept is good, but the real bugbear most people have is the lack of thought about how many different businesses would be affected. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach that I’m sure will end in some venues going out of business. For example, it’s ridiculous that The Bowery would have to hire security so they can have their jazz bands in on a Wednesday night. Then there’s the fact that the scanners often don’t work if there’s a bit of damage on the driver’s licence or something, and then we have to enter it in manually which takes at least a couple of minutes. A month on we’ve definitely noticed a loss in revenue. It’s not going to be the end of us – we’ve got the restaurant, events space, bar, live music and so on – but it represents a loss over the whole industry. It’s telling the government has waived the use of ID scanners at BIGSOUND – even they realise how silly it is to expect everyone to constantly have their IDs on them and scan every single person going into a venue.”
Matthew Medcraft – Freddie’s Taphouse & Kitchen
“Because Freddies is a casual dining and bar, we only have a licence until midnight, which means we don’t have to bring them in – I never really looked into it. But I’ve noticed some businesses on James Street have scanners and I find it really odd. Talking to security people, there have been very few incidents ever in this area over the years. I personally find them confronting; for anyone who has a venue like we have you shouldn’t have to have scanners, even if you want to open after midnight, even if you happen to be in the Valley.”