Australia: Changes to liquor and gaming licensing laws in Queensland due to come into effect on 1 July 2016

Introduction

Alcohol-fuelled violence has consistently been a hot topic in Australian media in recent times and one which the Queensland Government has indicated it wishes to confront. The issue has unfortunately again been brought into focus in the new year with the tragic death of a teenager in Brisbane as a result of a 'coward punch' by men who were allegedly affected by alcohol. In order to address the issue of alcohol-fuelled violence, the Attorney – General and Minister for Justice and Minister for Training and Skills, Yvette D'Ath introduced the Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (the Bill) into Parliament in November 2015. Notably, the Bill seeks to reduce allowable extended trading hours for most licensed premises, amend the existing lockout provisions under the Liquor Act 1992 (Qld) (the Act) and introduce the concept of "3 am safe night precincts".

Amendments to the Liquor Act 1992 (Qld)

Amongst other statutory amendments, the Bill seeks to amend the Act by:

  • providing for the approval of existing Safe Night Precincts as "3 am safe night precincts" (3 am Safe Night Precincts) in consultation with the local boards. Only 11 out of the 15 existing Safe Night Precincts have a local board, which is a prerequisite to applying to become a 3 am Safe Night Precinct. If a 3 am Safe Night Precinct is declared, venues that are currently approved for liquor trading until 3 am or later will automatically be approved to sell or supply liquor until 3 am from 1 July 2016. Venues within the 3 am Safe Night Precinct that do not have extended liquor trading hours approval but wish to trade beyond standard hours will be required to apply for extended hours permits for liquor trading up to 3 am. Licensees will retain their current ability to apply for up to 12 one-off permits per year to sell or supply liquor beyond their approved liquor trading hours, up to 5 am. The Minister may revoke a 3 am Safe Night Precinct approval if the local board does not provide adequate safeguards for 3 am trading, if the local board no longer wants the precinct to trade until 3 am or if the Minister determines that continued 3 am trading would have an undue adverse effect on health, safety or amenities. If the designation as a 3 am Safe Night Precinct is revoked, the entire precinct will be required to end trading at 2 am;1
  • preventing the sale and supply of alcohol after 2 am, except in the case of premises within a 3 am Safe Night Precinct, which may trade until 3 am (upon approved application for extended trading hours), and airports and casinos with commercial special facility licenses, which may still apply for extended trading to 5 am;2
  • bringing forward the existing 3 am lockout time under sections 142AA and 142AB of the Act to 1 am; however the lockout provisions will only apply to venues in a prescribed 3 am Safe Night Precinct. The 1 am lockout provisions will apply to all liquor suppliers in a 3 am Safe Night Precinct who trade after 1 am, including those that stop trading at 2 am;3
  • prohibiting the sale or consumption of high alcohol content and rapid consumption drinks (eg shots) after midnight, except at venues that specialise in premium spirits. The specific types and amounts of alcohol to be prescribed will be determined following a stakeholder consultation;4
  • removing the ability for all commercial hotel, community club and commercial special facility licensees to apply for extended trading hours for the sale of takeaway liquor so that such applications can only be made for airports and casinos with commercial special facility licences. If enacted, the Bill will prohibit any new applications for the sale of takeaway liquor outside of the standard 10 am - 10 pm trading hours from being accepted or approved. Transitional provisions will ensure that any applications for extended trading hours for takeaway liquor that were undecided as at 10 November 2015 will lapse and no new applications will be accepted. However, these changes will not apply to existing extended trading approvals for takeaway liquor. Venues that currently sell or supply takeaway liquor to 12 midnight will be able to continue to do so; 5and
  • ensuring that licensees whose car park is designated as part of the licensed premises must be granted approval by the Commissioner of Liquor and Gaming before holding an event if alcohol is going to be consumed or supplied in the car park. This amendment will override existing approvals or conditions on licences. The car park approval is limited and will only apply on the day and during the specified hours stated in the Commissioner's approval.6

Amendments to the Gaming Machine Act 1991 (Qld)

The Bill also amends the Gaming Machine Act 1991 (Qld) so that gaming hours and liquor consumption hours are no longer linked. Key changes include:7

  • gaming hours may be approved for up to two hours after the service of liquor has ceased, allowing gaming services to continue to trade up to 5 am in a Safe Night Precinct and 4 am outside of a Safe Night Precinct; and
  • venues that offer gaming and adult entertainment will be able to continue to provide those activities for the duration of the approved gaming and adult entertainment hours in effect immediately prior to 1 July 2016, despite the intended winding back of liquor trading hours on 1 July 2016.

A Parliamentary Committee is currently reviewing the Bill and is required to report to Parliament by 8 February 2016. There are public hearings scheduled on 21 January 2016, 22 January 2016 and 1 February 2016. If the Committee completes its review by the deadline and the Bill is passed and assented to, the Act will come into effect on 1 July 2016.8

Practical Considerations

The Labor State Government has renewed its push to pass the new liquor licensing laws and is seeking bipartisan support. When the Bill was first introduced, the general industry consensus was that the legislative changes would not be passed by Parliament; however, this may now not be the case. Politically, it may be difficult for the Liberal National Party opposition not to support the proposed changes in light of overwhelming public outcry against the most recent senseless death of Cole Miller in Brisbane.

Some of the practical consequences of the proposed amendments to the Act include:

  • local boards of Safe Night Precincts having to apply to become a 3 am Safe Night Precinct to allow venues to trade until 3 am and such application to be approved by the Minister before the Minister makes a recommendation to the Governor in Council to prescribe the Safe Night Precinct as an approved 3 am Safe Night Precinct;9
  • if a Safe Night Precinct does not currently have a local board, then presumably one must be established apply to the Minister to become a 3 am Safe Night Precinct; and
  • the primary beneficiaries of the Bill will be commercial special facilities licensees and casino operators whose existing late night trading hours remain intact.

Commercial special facilities licensees and casino operators may benefit commercially because their trading hours will not be reduced and therefore may lawfully trade to 5 am regardless of whether such venues are located in a 3 am Safe Night Precinct10. As a consequence there now may be an added impetus for a new entrant in the hospitality industry to apply for a commercial special facilities licence, or for an existing holder of a liquor licence to convert it to a commercial special facilities licence. However, in order to be granted a commercial special facilities licence, the venue must either be a casino, airport, convention centre or other facility that makes a significant contribution to developing tourism in Queensland.11 Businesses that may wish to apply for a commercial special facilities licence to take advantage of these potential trading advantages will need to carefully consider whether they are able to meet the requirements.

Footnotes

1Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) 1RS, 2891;
2Explanatory Notes, Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld), 3, 16, 17; Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) cl 29, 54. Explanatory Notes, Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld), 2, 24; Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) cl 62.
3Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) 1RS, 2891; 4Explanatory Notes, Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld), 2; Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) cl 31, 38.
4Explanatory Notes, Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld), 4; Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) 1RS, 2892; Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) cl 43, 49.
5Explanatory Notes, Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld), 3 – 4; Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) 1RS, 2892; Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) cl 62.
6Explanatory Notes, Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld),13; Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) 1RS, 2893; Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) cl 42, 62, 66.
7Explanatory Notes, Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld), 4; Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) 1RS, 2892.
8 The Queensland Parliament, Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015, (7 January 2016) - The Queensland Parliament.
9Explanatory Notes, Tackling Alcohol-fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld), 3.
10Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld) cl 29, 62.
11 The Queensland Government, Types of liquor and wine licences,(12 January 2016) - The Queensland Government

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