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Sunshine Coast live music venue owner critical of inconsistent COVID-19 safety rules

Sunshine Coast live music venue owner critical of inconsistent COVID-19 safety rules
June 16, 2021

The owner of the NightQuarter live music venue on the Sunshine Coast has criticised Queensland Health's move to shut it down over alleged COVID-19 safety breaches citing inconsistent COVID-19 safety rules across industries.

The popular venue at the Stockland Birtinya Shopping Centre was ordered to close at 8:30pm on Friday by Queensland Health compliance officials along with Queensland Police who served the business owner with a notice that the venue posed "an unacceptable risk to public health".

The notice, which ordered the venue to halt live events immediately, reportedly resulted from allegations that patrons had been seen dancing in allocated seats on the previous weekend.

Ordered to halt live events immediately.

Concerned that COVID-19 restrictions are not being applied consistently across all industries, NightQuarter owner, Michelle Christoe told the ABC “this is devastating news for the music industry that has been doing it tough, and a dramatic contrast to the love given to major sporting events hosted at government-owned stadiums.

"The issue that Queensland Health have at the moment is dancing. When people stand up in their seats and become less than socially distanced, they then regard it as dancing.

"However, I guess where the hypocrisy is, we're not seeing this across the industry. We're not seeing it against other industries like sport, and that makes it very hard for us to maintain the compliance with patrons."

Christoe highlighted the shutdown directive had been issued in the same week as the NRL State of Origin game in Townsville, in which she said people were jumping up in their seats, as well as crowded in bars, walkways and upon entry and exit from Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

She noted “this is not something that's about us - it's about the industry, because you can't just shut down the music industry because people were standing up and dancing, when you're having similar behaviour in sporting venues.

"It's very hard for patrons to understand how they need to behave when there's not a consistency everywhere, across every industry.

"There's only so much we can reasonably do, and we do work towards that with a continuous improvement process in looking at how we operate this venue - and we work very hard at doing that.

"We send out reminders, we've got signage, we delay bands performing, we've got signage on our LED screens, we have security, we've got COVID marshals, we've got entertainers blowing bubbles walking through any area that's compressed."

Christoe said her venue directly employed 400 people, including 20 local musicians each weekend, as well as touring bands in its main stage area, which opened in November 2020.

She advised that the venue was operating under its own COVIDSafe plan, and provided ticketed seating at its main stage as per Queensland Health guidelines.

Contacted by the ABC, Queensland Minister for Small Business Di Farmer declined to comment about the directive as it was "under investigation" by Queensland Health.

However, Minister Farmer did say “what I can say is the government has worked really hard to support small businesses, including live music venues, and our number one consideration is community safety.

"We need to make sure that all businesses are complying."

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said the risk of COVID-19 transmission in confined spaces was far greater than the risk at open-air venues such as sporting stadiums, which were also required to comply with public health directions.

Dr Young advised “we have worked closely with the operators of NightQuarter for several months in an attempt to help them continue operating in accordance with the Queensland public health directions

"However, there have been repeated breaches of these directions and several complaints by members of the community in relation to occupant density and physical distancing requirements during events.

"To ensure the safety of their patrons and the broader community, there was no choice but to issue a public health order requiring the main stage area to close."

Image: NightQuarter on the Sunshine Coast has been shut down by health authorities. Credit: NightQuarter/ Michelle Christou.

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