As Sydney Slowly Chokes, Queensland Faces Its Own Growing Battle Against Lockouts

9 February 2016 | 5:27 pm | Staff Writer

The war for the Sunshine State's nightlife is hitting fever pitch

A parliamentary committee has failed to be unanimously convinced of the virtues of the Queensland government's proposed amendments to existing lockout laws, further complicating an already drawn-out saga over the future of the state's late-night entertainment industry.

As the ABC reports, the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee was unable to reach a majority decision regarding the legislation, which would see lockouts brought forward to 1am and last-drinks times back to 2am, among several other restrictions. Instead, the committee opted to recommend that, should Labor's awfully named Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill pass through parliament, it should be subject to a comprehensive assessment of its impacts on the state's nightlife after 18 months. So that's something.

Still, even this degree of solidarity has failed to convince critics of the bill of its potential merits, including Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg.

"[The recommendation is] just an indication that there's not confidence in what the government is proposing," he told the ABC.

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While elected representatives such as NSW premier Mike Baird chest-beat about how a 42% drop in late-night assaults is an incredible statistic and undeniable proof of the efficacy of the state's widely maligned lockout laws (despite a litany of venues, restaurants and bars going out of business in the process), an entire industry is telling them it's dying, only for their calls to seemingly fall on (willfully) deaf ears.

This is not a problem unique to Sydney, however; even in the face of petitions, political opposition and a lack of hard evidence, Qld premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath are adamant in extolling the apparent virtues of Labor's planned amendments. 

Bizarrely, their champions have, in recent months, offered irrelevant or tangential statistics about the laws' potential for good. Labor minister Anthony Lynham even crowed that the bill's passing would mark a "great day for mums and dads out there … [as well as] our kids" — none of whom are exactly renowned for being regular nightclub-goers.

More recently, according to the ABC, the chairman of the National Trauma Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Dr John Crozier, today blamed "the amount of sway that the alcohol industry can bring to bear" on government for the lack of agreement, as though the countless musicians, performers, hospitality workers, venue operators and punters speaking out against the laws — which he also claims "are not draconian", so at least he has a sense of humour — are little more than mindless puppets of the booze industry.

"They run over our community and put profit at a premium over the pieces, that we as healthcare practitioners, police, ambulance, judges and employees are picking up day after day," he told the ABC. He continued: "It's a question of whether we continue to run experiments in local communities when we know already that there are reasonable measures that work."

To be totally fair to Crozier, he does point to rising alcohol-related deaths and hospitalisations in the state between 2010 and 2014, which he rightly describes as "a national tragedy which we have to align and curb" — it's just hard to agree that mass restriction of people's freedoms is necessarily the best way to achieve that outcome.

Indeed, critics maintain that the belief that lockouts and sale restrictions are effective measures for combating the state's (and nation's) cultural problem with the bottle is based on faulty logic at best, and dangerously short-sighted at worst. As Our Nightlife Queensland secretary Nick Braban opined late last year:

"What's being put forward by the government will kill our entertainment precincts as it has done in Sydney, because young people will fail to see the value in coming.

"We hope that the government has a plan for the displacement of people partying in the suburbs," he continued. 

"However, we are certain they do not."

Should the bill pass in parliament, it will take effect from 1 July this year. Under the committee's recommendation, it would be up for review in December 2017.