Earlier this week the NSW Government announced its intention to introduce long-awaited liquor licence reforms. These reforms build upon the draft Liquor Bill that was released by the Government in November 2005 (which had received over 900 submissions by June 2006), as well as the recent small bar reform proposals agitated by Clover Moore.
Despite widespread belief that the new laws are already in place, the Bill is not expected to be ready for introduction to parliament until approximately two weeks from now, and the changes (if approved) would commence about seven to twelve months from now.
The most significant changes are summarised below.
Social Impact Assessment (SIA)
Under the current system, a category B SIA can take several months to prepare and cost tens of thousands of dollars. On top of this a $6,600 application fee must be paid to the Liquor Administration Board, which will then generally take many months or years to consider the SIA. The process provides a great barrier to new entries into the hotel market.
The new laws would replace the SIA process with a requirement for a Community Impact Statement (CIS) instead. Where the SIA process currently applies only to the grant or removal of hotel and off-licences, a CIS may potentially be required for a much larger range of applications. The Government claims that the change is designed to minimise time and costs. A CIS must summarise the results of consultation with local councils, police, health, Aboriginal representatives, community organisations and the public. There will be no fee for the lodgement of a CIS.
Small bars and music venues
Clover Moore's Liquor Amendment (Small Bars and Restaurants) Bill 2007 proposed the following changes:
- allowing restaurants to supply liquor without a meal, provided that food service remains the predominant activity, and tables and chairs are available to at least 70% of patrons at all times
- introduction of a new "small bar" category of licence for bars with 120 patrons or fewer, with only a $500 licence fee and no SIA requirement.
The Government has borrowed from Clover Moore's Bill and proposes to:
1. cater for smaller and entertainment bars by:
- creating a special type of hotel licence for bars that do not provide gaming or takeaway alcohol
- allowing for an on-premises licence to be issued to entertainment venues (this form of licence will replace the current Nightclub and Theatre licences).
The licence fee for these licences will be only $500. However, it is not clear whether a limit on patron numbers applies. The special hotel licence could potentially be available to any bar without gaming or a bottle shop.
2. allow restaurants to seek approval to serve alcohol without a meal without the need for an expensive "dine-or-drink" authority
It is not clear how extensive this proposed change will be. Clover Moore's amendments would have required tables and chairs for 70% of patrons, and not required those patrons who were seated to necessarily consume a meal. Therefore at times, arguably all patrons could drink without consuming a meal. By contrast, the current "dine-or-drink" system only allows 30% of restaurant seating to be used by patrons who drink without having a meal.
Importantly, it appears that under the Government's proposal, both types of application may require a CIS to be submitted. There is currently not a requirement for a SIA for dine-or-drink authorities or restaurant licences. Clover Moore's proposal would have exempted both types of application from the SIA process entirely.
Live music venues
The Government has suggested that live music will be supported and encouraged in the objects of the legislation, which will allow for an "order of occupancy" to be considered. This change is presumably designed to offer some protection for live music venues which come under attack when the surrounding locality becomes more residential in character, particularly as residents buy property near hotels and then subsequently complain about noise.
While this is a positive step forward for live music venues, it is difficult to gauge what impact, if any, such a change will have in practice, unless the prior presence of the venue is also given weight in relation to noise/disturbance complaints, and in the application of the LAB inaudibility criteria (ie it may require more than an amendment to the broad objects of the Act, to be of any real utility).
Move to administrative-based system
Most matters, such as licence applications and transfers and disciplinary matters, will no longer be dealt with by the Licensing Court, but by the proposed new Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority. The new Authority will ostensibly be an administrative body (although it may hear appeals from the decision of the Director).
Other proposed changes
Other changes included in the Government's proposed Liquor Act reform package include:
- introduction of new offences to deal with drunk and unruly patrons and increased penalties for underage drinking and intoxication offences
- simplification of liquor licence categories (reducing categories from 21 to 6)
- expanded powers to ban irresponsible liquor products and promotions
- special arrangements for tourism operators and others, such as surf clubs and private functions
- the ability to declare "restricted areas" (geographical areas, suburbs, etc) which will mean that much greater controls over the sale and supply of liquor will apply to areas which are thought to suffer from chronic alcohol abuse.
We reiterate that these changes have not yet taken effect. We will monitor the situation, and welcome any enquiries.
This publication is provided to clients and correspondents for their information on a complimentary basis. It represents a brief summary of the law applicable as at the date of publication and should not be relied on as a definitive or complete statement of the relevant laws.
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