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Schoolies set to go ahead, and government may be powerless to intervene

Culture

Schoolies are coming, COVID or not, and the Gold Coast is getting ready.

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Despite calls to cancel the event, move the end-of-school party online, or shut out interstate revellers, Gold Coast hotels are still taking bookings from school leavers heading to the November event.

Interstate school leavers’ plans to attend the Gold Coast have taken a hit, but have still not been terminated, after the Queensland border will again be slammed shut from 1am Saturday 8 August, with all of NSW and the ACT added to Victoria as designated hotspots.

Queensland’s border closure will be reviewed at the end of August.

“We cannot put Queenslanders at risk,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

“My job is to protect Queenslanders’ health and our economy and lifestyle.”

The Premier said she would seek ongoing advice from Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young relating to Schoolies in November.

“We can’t have mass gatherings. We need to be very careful,” Palaszczuk said.

“Everything’s hard for everyone at the moment, things are changing constantly and Schoolies may be in some different form, it may be smaller gatherings.”

Schoolies has fallen through the cracks to remain on track in the rash of event cancellations due to COVID-19, to the delight of many Year 12s completing their schooling in a year disrupted by coronavirus.

The three-week graduation festival that attracts thousands of school-leavers from across the country is not an organised event, which means it can’t officially be cancelled.

Only safety measures to protect school leavers, such as security guards around party precincts, photo identification entry passes to restrict some venues to school leavers only, and support programs and activities run by support agencies are organised.

“Schoolies occurs whenever and wherever groups of young people gather to celebrate the completion of Year 12. It is not controlled by one organisation or destination,” according to central booking website schoolies.com.

The website’s advice to school leavers said while some of the optional activities typically associated with Schoolies may be withdrawn or adjusted to fit in with COVID restrictions, it did not mean Schoolies holidays had to be cancelled.

“At this stage it’s ‘business as usual’ for 2020 Schoolies as there are currently no restrictions that have been put in place by government over the dates of your holiday that will restrict you from celebrating Schoolies with your friends.”

Support agencies including the Red Frogs Support Network, which has been part of the safety program for Schoolies since 1997, said they were planning for the 2020 party to go ahead on the Gold Coast and at other locations around the country.

Red Frogs found Andy Gourley said if Schoolies were coming, agencies were planning how to support them.

“The overwhelming vibe is they’re so keen to get there,” Gourley said.

“I guess every parent out there might be praying that it doesn’t happen for sure, but I think from the Schoolies perspective they are very, very keen.’’’

Gourley said a lot of current Year 12s had booked their Schoolies accommodation on the Gold Coast while they were in Year 11, so agencies were planning for different scenarios and restrictions on the assumption school leavers would be arriving ready to party.

“If the Schoolies are there, we’re going to try to be there if it is safe to do so,” he said.

“Young people have that carefree attitude in every aspect of life. And we see that through their alcohol patterns and risk-taking, and this season is no different for a lot of their attitudes, so they do need some strong boundaries around them.

“Having very good COVID-safe practices for the hotels and events is so important. Pubs and clubs have very good procedures which do tend to be working, so they will be so important if it does go ahead.”

This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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