On 18 March 2010, Queensland Parliament's Law, Justice and Safety Committee (Committee) tabled its report into alcohol related violence in Queensland. The Committee made 68 separate recommendations to the Queensland Government that have the potential to dramatically change the landscape of Queensland's liquor industry in the short to medium future as these recommended measures are implemented.
Given the bipartisan nature of the Committee, many of its recommendations are likely to find their way into legislation.
Some of the Committee's key recommendations include:
- that standard on-premises trading hours be 10am to midnight
- that a 2am lockout apply to all licensed venues
- extended trading hours for venues outside special entertainment precincts be no later than 1am Sundays to Thursdays and no later than 3am Fridays and Saturdays
- extended trading hours for venues in special entertainment precincts to be no later than 2am Sundays to Thursdays and no later than 4am Fridays and Saturdays
- that the Queensland Government ban bottle shops from advertising discounted liquor prices in Queensland
- that the Queensland Government provide the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation with additional resources to allow officers to carry out their enforcement roles
- that the Criminal Code be amended so that use of glass as a weapon in an assault be a circumstance of aggravation in assault offences
- that the sentencing ranges for alcohol-related offences be increased
- that licensees trading after midnight be encouraged to install ID scanning systems at venues
- that the Government ensure that necessary legislative or enforcement steps are taken to address issues of premises with restaurant licences trading as nightclubs
- that the parents or guardians of a minor up to age 16 fined for an alcohol-related offence also be liable for that fine
- that young people aged 16 and over, who receive a fine for alcohol-related offences, remain liable for that fine after attaining the age of 18. This should have adverse consequences, such as the inability to obtain a drivers licence, should it remain unpaid at the time of application for such a licence.
There has been a substantial amount of media coverage in relation to the recommendations, with most attention being focussed on the proposed change in trading hours.
The Queensland Courier Mail has established an on-line survey regarding the Committee's recommendation and it appears that more than 80% of participants were opposed to the proposed shorter trading hours. Some sectors of the hospitality industry assert that there is a lack of data linking late night trading to alcohol-related violence and suggesting that alcohol-related violence should be addressed by ensuring that there is a larger number of visible police on the streets and tougher penalties for those that breach the law.
The Queensland Hotels Association has criticised the Committee's report as suffering from a lack of perspective as it states that the Committee's recommendations are oriented towards and targeted against, late night, high licensed density, entertainment precincts such as Surfers Paradise and Fortitude Valley and do not take into account the 900 low risk hotel operations throughout the State or many of the thousands of other low risk or no risk licensed businesses. Indeed, there has been similar criticism by other sectors of the industry having concern of a "one size fits all" approach to the State's licensing laws.
The recommendation to ban bottle shops from advertising discounted liquor in Queensland may contravene the provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
The Committee noted that there are currently restrictions on alcohol promotions outside licensed venues but such restrictions do not apply to bottle shops that can advertise outside their premises, in the print media and all other social media, including cinemas, telephone and radio.
One recommendation that seems to have escaped attention by the press is the Committee's recommendation that there be legislative amendments to ensure a greater emphasis on committee consultation and that public conferences now be made mandatory as part of the process in considering applications for all licences under the Liquor Act 1992 (the Act) where an objection to an application has been made.
The third recommendation that the Committee has made in relation to the licensing process recommends that a definition of "amenity" be included in the Act when referring to elements such as noise, transport, nuisance and lifestyle. Historically, the fundamental test for obtaining a licence was one of establishing sufficient "public need" for a licence. Changes made as a result of the National Competition Policy saw that test change from one of public need to public interest thereby liberalising alcohol availability so that the number and type of alcohol outlets were determined by market demand rather than the primary consideration of potential impact on local communities, health, economy and amenity. More recently that test has changed to one of "community interest" which did little to change the status quo. However, the Committee purports the findings of the National Preventative Health Taskforce that have been working towards exempting liquor control legislation from requirements of the National Competition Policy. Should this occur, arguments concerning convenience and choice in relation to the availability of liquor in a community will be superseded by arguments focussing on the potential to increase alcohol-related problems within a community. Amendments to the Act to include a definition of what constitutes the "amenity" of a community may have far reaching implications in relation to the ability of obtaining a liquor licence in Queensland in the future.
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