Early Saturday morning Jamie Webb, co-owner of Brisbane institution Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall, took to Facebook to vent his frustrations at the Queensland government.
“Thank you Annastacia Palaszczuk MP & Queensland Labor you are killing my business and nightlife in Queensland,” Webb said in the post, tagging the premier and the state Labor party’s Facebook pages.
“I have never been abused more tonight out of pure frustration since I ran a door with a dress code,” the post continued, before adding: “We ran a sold out gig and then a game day, and the end result looked like Thursday night from 11pm.”
Webb’s post was a scathing indictment of the new ID scanning laws, which were introduced as a compromise measure after the state government’s repeal of the 1am lockout law earlier this year. Kicking in on July 1, the laws require all patrons to carry ID to enter late-night licensed venues in Queensland’s Safe Night Precincts.
Talking to Broadsheet this afternoon, Webb says the Facebook post was paraphrasing his manager’s report from the Friday night, when the venue’s 10pm transition from a sold-out Ben Ottewell gig to opening to the general public turned into a perfect storm of “150 to 250” people trying to get through the door, many of them not realising they would have to have their ID scanned. “They were standing in these huge queues,” Webb says. “The scanners couldn’t read about 40 per cent of the IDs, we were told it would be about a 90 per cent success rate.”
Webb says venue operators are also having issues with passports, and even with people who have the same name as someone on a banning order. Further frustrating security was a duplication of the process, with punters being stung by having to line up again after exiting venues to make a phone call or buy food.
When on the night Webb’s manager complained to an officer from the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation, the response was to hire more security. “That’s already costing me $55,000, I estimate,” Webb says. “We’re not allowed to operate the machines ourselves.
“What was surprising was the public reaction,” he continues. “They weren’t understanding. They didn’t want to be standing out in big long lines to get into Lefty’s. So by the time they get to the front of the line they’re abusing our staff, abusing each other, trying to jump the queues … People were aggravated once they got into the venue and it’s supposed to be a fun place where you never have any trouble.”
The following night, on the Saturday, a Lefty’s security guard clicked 150 people as having been turned away because of the scanners (Lefty’s is licensed to accommodate 300 people at any one time). “That was large groups coming in where one person didn’t have ID,” Webb says. “Older people in particular didn’t want to have their details scanned, which I can understand – there’s something pretty Orwellian about the whole thing.”
Webb says he expected there to be teething problems but the laws had already cost him $25,000 in sales in one week. He’s now looking at closing Lefty’s at midnight during the week. “Ourselves and the Caxton Street Hotel are the last remaining late-night venues on the street,” he says. “Once we go, that’s it. And that’s a shame because the precinct gets a lot of global visitors for sporting events.”
When asked if the government rushed in the scanning laws, Webb is blunt. “Absolutely. [That’s] another thing we asked for which no one listened to: ‘Can we just have a three-month trial period where we get used to it, the public gets used to it, and we can talk about what works and what doesn’t?’ he says. “[The government said], ‘Nup. July 1. These are coming in. Like it or lump it’.”
Plus, he says, the laws simply don’t work: “You could get refused entry at Lefty’s at 10.05pm on a Saturday night, and walk over to Brewski where they don’t have any security, because they don’t have to … [or] the casino, which really irks me – why are they exempt [from the laws]?
“I think it was a bit of a hopeful thing that it would be an election driver but it seems to backfiring a bit,” Webb says. “I posted that thing on Saturday morning and thought it would get just a few views, and 45,000 people looked at that, which means 45,000 people are pretty concerned.”
Webb’s Facebook post came a few days after a group of French winemakers were turned away from The Gresham for not carrying the correct identification – an incident that received coverage in The Courier Mail and Brisbane Times.
For her part, the premier seems to be taking notice. “Of course we will always be listening and where we can make changes we will respond,” the Brisbane Times reported Palaszczuk as saying yesterday.
Palaszczuk said Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath would be listening to the community and the responses. But D’Ath this morning was taking a harder line. “These were the same licensed venues who said we don’t want lockout laws but we’re happy with ID scanners,” she told ABC radio. “So there is a bit of misinformation out there ... some in the industry are saying there hasn’t been consultation when we’ve been talking about this for two-and-a-half years.”
From Webb’s perspective, the ID scanning law is worse than the original lockout proposal, which would have given venues inside entertainment precincts the option of either closing at 2am or applying to sell alcohol until 3am with a 1am lockout. “I was more for an early night close in our precinct at 2am,” he says. “Nothing great happens after 2am anywhere.
“These things are just going to take Brisbane back to the ’80s. 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, who can pretty much go wherever they want anyway.”