Queensland is set to adopt stricter lockout laws – with further moves to allow courts to ban drug offenders from entertainment precincts – under a deal struck by the Palaszczuk government with Katter’s Australian party (KAP).
The Labor minority government announced on Wednesday that it had secured the support of the two KAP crossbenchers for its “tackling alcohol-fuelled violence” bill, with a statewide closure of licensed venues from 2am to be enforced from July.
Nightclubs and bars in city entertainment precincts, such as Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, will be forced to serve “last drinks” by 3am and liquor shots by midnight, with a 1am lockout or “one-way door” to apply from February 2017.
The Palaszczuk government’s last minute success in gaining passage for laws curtailing the late night alcohol trade – amid opposition from the local music industry, the Liberal National party and the Labor MP turned independent, Billy Gordon – comes after renewed backlash to similar measures in New South Wales.
Moves to allow courts to ban drug offenders from entertainment precincts, which now apply only to violent offenders, will require additional law changes and may prompt a push by licensed venues for a compulsory, government-subsidised ID scanning regime to enforce the bans.
The government said the changes would be subject to “consultation with stakeholders”.
The Queensland council for civil liberties opposes scanning regimes because of the potential for privacy violations and a lack of demonstrated effectiveness reducing violence in places such as Victoria and Canada.
John “JC” Collins, former Powderfinger bassist and owner of the Brisbane music venue the Triffid – which will not be affected by the laws – said he was “very, very disappointed for the future of Brisbane music”.
“I’m just extremely disappointed they didn’t consider the music industry when doing these crazy laws,” he said.
“They talked to everyone else except the music industry, which they left alone until the very last minute and then didn’t take any of the recommendations on board.”
Lockout laws in Queensland entertainment precincts apply from 3am; 105 of 7,300 venues statewide are licensed to trade until 5am.
Under the new laws, those 105 venues can apply for permits to trade to 5am up to 12 times a year , and “low-risk” venues can apply for exemption from the midnight ban on serving “shots”.
Casinos and airports are exempt from the lockout and trading restrictions.
Police would be able to use blood alcohol tests taken from patrons to prosecute licensees breaching responsible service laws.
Music venues have tried to engage the government in a proposal for 3am closures and no lockouts – which they argue will stop the “club-hopping” characteristic of music scene patrons – but say they have been ignored.
KAP MPs Robbie Katter and Shane Knuth at first resisted supporting the legislation but will do so after gaining government commitments around mental health programs and meetings of a cabinet jobs committee in rural centres.
KAP also insisted on the staged implementation of the trading restrictions, with an $8m funding pool available to venues to adapt, including with more security.
Katter said in a government-issued statement: “Alcohol-fuelled violence is an important social policy for the government, and the impact of unemployment and the economic downturn are important social policy issues for us.”
The premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said the government was “committed to curbing alcohol-fuelled violence, but we are also committed to increasing employment and devoting more resources to mental health.”
Venues and the music industry have said some operators will be put out of business and Brisbane’s vibrant band scene will be harmed, citing impacts in Sydney.
The minister for state development and natural resources and mines, Anthony Lynham, a vocal campaigner against alcohol-fuelled violence in his previous career as a facial reconstructive surgeon, argued the laws would mean fewer “families grieving [over assault-related deaths and injuries] for a very small adjustment in our night-time economy”.
The laws, which are set to be passed after a debate on the floor of the Queensland parliament from Wednesday, would be independently reviewed from July 2018.
Palaszczuk has agreed to prioritise funding for mental health programs in the coming state budget, due on 14 June.
Katter said: “Rates of suicide in regional Queensland are too high and we welcome a stronger priority for mental health programs in the next budget.”
Knuth said KAP’s discussions with the government had been “meaningful” and “ensured we have been able to make progress” on social issues related to the economic downturn affecting regional Queensland.
This article appeared on ‘The Guardian’ on 17 February 2016.