Almost 13 million IDs scanned. Fewer than 500 banned drinkers caught. Those are the figures revealed yesterday in an ABC report detailing the performance of government-ordered ID scanners.
The data obtained by the ABC showed that just 0.004 per cent of the IDs scanned were of punters on banning orders. That’s one banned drinker for every 26,000 licences (and other IDs) scanned.
ID scanners were made compulsory in July last year for late-night venues in Brisbane’s designated safe night precincts, including the Valley, Caxton Street and the CBD. Under the laws, bars and clubs within the precincts that elect to stay open beyond midnight need to scan patron IDs from 10pm onwards.
The move led to long queues outside venues, skyrocketing security costs and a series of embarrassing news stories. It was roundly slammed at the time by bar and club owners. In an interview with Broadsheet in June, Caxton Hotel general manager Alex Farquhar said that, a year after their implementation, the ID scanning laws had been hugely damaging.
“If I said the last 12 months of ID scanning were a nightmare, that would be a huge understatement,” Farquhar said. “It has been so costly and detrimental to our business. It’s scary. It makes me worried for the future of my family’s hotel.
“It’s heartbreaking. I’m sick and tired of getting into arguments with customers telling them it’s not us, we don’t want to do this.”
“Not at all,” he says. “When you consider that at Lefty’s we probably put 1000 people through the venue a week, easily – closer to 1500 – and I think we’ve had two refusals [since the introduction of the ID scanners]. And you don’t even know what they’re for. It could be for getting busted urinating in public.”
Webb is frank when describing the ID scanners’ effect on his business.
“It’s terrible. It’s terrible. And it’s taken 20 per cent off our revenue,” he says. “It’s killed Caxton Street, it’s killed our late-night economy. Two years ago, it was thriving on Friday and Saturday nights. Now The Caxton, [strip club] Honeybees and us are the only places open, so it’s a bit lonely.”
Like Farquhar, Webb reckons it’s been harder for a smaller precinct like Caxton Street to absorb the laws.
“When you take away three venues that have handed in their late-night licences because they were too prohibitively expensive to run with security guards and the cost of the scanners, that’s more than half the precinct,” he says. “It cuts down on foot traffic.”
Webb uses the example of a temporary relaxation of the laws for the recent Wallabies-Springboks Rugby Union match to illustrate the effect the laws have on businesses along Caxton Street. Venues were allowed to boot up their scanners an hour later than usual, giving thousands of potential patrons at Suncorp Stadium plenty of time to find a venue on Caxton Street. That allowance was not made for the near-capacity Wallabies-Ireland game earlier in the year.
“There were only 25,000 people in the stadium for that [Wallabies-Springboks] game and we took more on that night than the Irish match when there was 55,000 people there,” he says. “People just don’t want to queue up and all the violence happens on the streets. People standing in lines are going to get agro.”
The decimation of Caxton Street’s late-night trade has seen Webb pivot Lefty’s slightly; he’s now collaborating with Ben and Nick Chiu of Ben’s Burgers to bring people into the venue earlier.
Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath is quoted in the ABC report as saying the low number of people picked up showed the system worked as a deterrent: “That is because the message is getting out there – don't even try to come into those areas because you will be turned away.”
But Webb still sees the system more for its flaws. He also owns Lefty’s neighbouring bar, Seymour’s Cocktails and Oysters, which operates until 1am on a restaurant licence, meaning it doesn’t have to operate ID scanners.
“If you can’t get into Lefty’s you can walk next door to Seymour’s and four other venues on the street,” he says. “So it’s really unfair to us and the Caxton and the Lord Alfred and Honeybees, I guess … if they wanted to do the scanners at midnight I’d say, “Cool”. That’s when things start getting messy. But 10pm is ridiculous.
“I was going out in Brisbane in the mid-to-late ’80s and it was an awful place to go out then. Nothing to do,” Webb continues. “All these great venues have opened up but now they’re all going to start closing because the late-night economy has been ravaged. The Valley isn’t anything like it used to be. The CBD: nights are great, the rest of the week, not so much. It feels like we’re reverting back to the uncool Brisbane we once were. I don’t say that lightly.”
Correction: an earlier edition of this story incorrectly stated that bars and clubs that stayed open after 1am in safe night precincts had to operate scanners. The closing time for venues not operating scanners is in fact midnight. The story has been updated to reflect this.