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INTERVIEW: We Talk Lockouts With Queensland’s Right to A Good Night

Last month, the Queensland Government announced that Australia’s strictest lockout laws would be introduced statewide in July of this year. The laws are expected to dramatically transform Brisbane’s nightlife scene, especially in Fortitude Valley where most of the best clubs and live venues are found. After the introduction of similar laws in Sydney, the last couple years in Kings Cross have been dire. Local businesses have seen foot traffic reduced by 80% in the lockout zone and the laws have forced upwards of 40 bars, venues, restaurants, cafes and nightclubs to close. Violence is down 25% but considering there’s so few people around, isn’t this statistic kind of void? Especially when casinos – exempt from the laws and therefore filled with punters who have nowhere else to go – are becoming hotspots for alcohol-fuelled violence. Queenslanders should now be preparing for their nightlife to suffer a similar fate.

To get the low down, we spoke to Jeremy Di Re who works as marketing and entertainment manager at Brisbane live music venue, The Brightside. He runs the Facebook page Right to a Good Night, which encourages discussion and lobbies for the opposition of lockout laws in Queensland.

Why did you start Right to A Good Night?

I started Right to a Good Night back before the last state election when the Government made a policy to enact a 1am lockout, a 3am last drinks and a 12am ban on shots, neat spirits and cocktails because I thought that was bad policy. The page grew out of a Facebook group of people that were against the lockout laws.

What kinds of people were in that original group?

There were a lot of people from the music industry and other young people from Brisbane who work in the Valley. We didn’t really expect to to go too much further but here we are.

What does the page do?

What it does is provides information and bits and pieces to try and educate people about the negative effects of lockouts where they’ve been used elsewhere and also how they’re gonna affect Queensland.

Is there an ultimate goal?

Since before the last lot of lockouts were announced as policy 2 or 3 years ago, we’ve always stated our ultimate goal was to stop lockout laws in Queensland. We were always against the 3am lockouts, we thought that caused more damage than good. Violence had a dip but lockouts in general haven’t really shown evidence of doing anything at all. It was the 5am shut down that really helped decrease violence. That’s what we currently have in place.

Can you suggest something people might not know or consider about how these laws will affect them?

There’s lots of flow on effects from lockouts. It’s not just bars, venues and clubs. Anything that exists in late night and entertainment precincts relies on and is built around that night time economy and when that economy is decimated, all the businesses, even those that exist during the daytime will go too. You can’t destroy an entertainment precinct without destroying the culture that’s built around it.

The Valley’s not gonna be the same during the day, it’s not gonna be that cool place to have your office or go get a coffee and go to the markets because when all the bars are gone, that’ll rip the foundation out of the Valley. They’re gonna rip the foundation out of every nightlife precinct in Queensland.

Is there anything you think is good about the new laws that will be introduced in July?

The 3am last drinks will work to a degree and the industry probably would’ve come to the table on that too, had the Government bothered to consult anyone. But it’s the 1am lockouts we really have a problem with. They’re just cruel and they’re not gonna do anything except shut businesses down.

With everything that’s happened in Sydney, do you think if they had the last drinks but not the lockout, it wouldn’t have forced so many places to shut down?

Well it would’ve helped. Sydney’s a different beast. It’s just that one area that has them [the lockout laws] and it’s that one area that had all the really good late night clubs. It’s like they purposely just dumped the lockouts in just to close those places down.

What do you think about the effects this could have on smaller towns in Queensland like Cairns and Townsville?

They’re already struggling, there’s not a lot going on up there. It’s hard enough to be a young person in Mackay or something as it is, let alone without being able to get a band together to go play some shows at the pub because the pub’s not there anymore. Or the pub’s full of pokies because the only way they can stay open or turn a profit is to scam people out of their money with gambling machines.

Do you think that live music venues should be exempt from the lockouts?

Yes, because of the same justification that extends to casinos. Their main reason for trading is not drinking, it’s gambling. By the same logic, the main reason for the Brightside, The Zoo or Crow Bar stay open is because they provide live music.

What about the argument that gigs usually finish before 1am?

That’s fair enough and it’s true, gigs often do finish before midnight but the revenue that keeps those venues alive, 70% of it comes after midnight. If they can’t make that extra revenue after bands are finished – the venue’s finished.

Soon kids aren’t gonna come out at all, there’s going to be a whole bunch of people who think, “if I can’t go out all night then what’s the point?” I think that’s what we saw in Sydney.

Do you know people in Melbourne and Sydney with similar jobs – what do they think about the lockout laws being introduced in Queensland?

The company that I used to work for, Destroy All Lines runs tours and venue nights all over the country and the sentiment is pretty much the same across all places – these laws are a bad idea. We’re those people that are out every single weekend, sometimes more than once to multiple places and we have an intimate knowledge of the way people act in our separate cities.

For instance, the last few weeks in Brisbane have been really big weekends because there’s sort of this feeling that people are thinking, “shit I’ve gotta get out and experience this before it’s gone.” I think that’s directly attributed to the laws being passed.

What about violence, how could we solve that problem without lockouts?

Educate not legislate. You have all of these 18-25 year olds who grew up watching the footy show every day with their dad and they had this comedian on the show wearing a t shirt that says “Bring back the biff.” He basically condoned violence and said fighting’s great and you gotta get out there and punch someone if you don’t like them. We need to tell kids in school that behaviour like that is fucking stupid.

What measures could you suggest to make the Valley safer?

Bring back the chill out zone, that seemed to work really well. There used to be one on Brunswick street where you could come to this place and calm down and they’d give you water.

More cops is also always an answer to violence. Cops [in the Valley] are usually walking around with council officers to make sure they don’t get bashed for fining people who drop cigarette butts… So that’s where the resources are going at the moment.

What do you think about BIGSOUND potentially leaving Brisbane?

The whole concept and the way BIGSOUND runs, you can’t achieve that with lockouts at 1am. There’s still bands playing at 2:30, 3 in the morning at BIGSOUND and we’re showcasing Brisbane, Queensland, Australia to all these people from around the world who are not gonna come here and be told they have to stop drinking at 3am or they can’t go anywhere else after 1am. What’s it gonna do for our international reputation?

There’s a good scene here, everyone who works within Brisbane’s music industry and around the Valley knows each other and gels really well, but it’s gonna take so much more to keep it going after the laws come in.

You can see in Sydney how their reputation internationally has been totally ruined by lockouts. They’ve been called a laughing stock because they are. If Sydney can’t survive it, we’ve got no chance.”

What can be done from here?

There’s an independent review around 18 months from when the laws will be introduced. The main thing to do until then is really lobby anyone in parliament who will listen to say, “these laws are bad and the evidence is right there in Sydney.” They need to see that people are still angry about it and young voters will vote against it. They need to know public sentiment towards these laws is really negative.

Anything else you want to include?

The main thing that I wanna do is keep people angry. You can see them already starting to think, “oh well it’s done, we’re all defeated.” People need to stay pissed off and remember that everyone is gonna tell you that these laws don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But you’re allowed to be pissed off and to care about something that directly affects you.

Image: Right to a Good Night