Australia: New relaxation to NSW lockout laws and last drinks sales

Last Updated: 22 December 2016
Article by Tom Young

On 8 December 2016, the NSW Government announced that it will relax Sydney's lockout laws for live entertainment venues, as well as a relaxation of takeaway and home delivery sales across the state.

The recent changes are an adoption of recommendations made by Honourable Ian Callinan AC QC in his independent review of the State's liquor laws that were only introduced 2 years ago. The change relates specifically to live entertainment venues in Sydney's CBD Entertainment Precinct and Kings Cross Precinct (the Precincts), as well as takeaway and home delivery alcohol sales.

Live entertainment venues are those venues that offer genuine entertainment, live performances or art and cultural events.

In 2014, the NSW Government announced a series of amendments to the Liquor Act 2007 (NSW) with an aim to place restrictions on licensed premises to reduce assaults arising from alcohol-related violence.

The reform saw the following restrictions introduced:

  • Lockout time for hotels, registered clubs, nightclubs and karaoke bars in the Precincts was 1:30am;
  • Last alcohol service in venues in the Precincts was 3:00am;
  • Last sale of takeaway alcohol across NSW was 10:00pm;
  • Freeze on granting of new liquor licences and approvals on existing licenses across Sydney CBD Precinct, and continuation in King Cross; and
  • Introduction of a new risk-based licence fee for all licensed premises whereby the annual fee payable depends on the venue's licence type, compliance history, location, patron capacity and trading hours.

Queensland licensees may notice the similarities between the above amendments and those which were introduced by the Queensland government to the Liquor Act 1992 (Qld) earlier this year.

In September 2016, the Honorable Ian Callinan AC QC undertook a review of the laws to determine whether the State's objectives had been achieved.

The review involved more than 1,800 submissions and close to 30 stakeholder sessions. Callinan with his Counsel Assisting Mr Horton QC interviewed people from a wide range of sectors. Supporters of the amendments were largely from the medical profession. Opponents of the included customers of licensed premises, licensees, live entertainers and shift workers in the Precincts.

The Review agreed with the restrictions imposed by the amendments on the basis that the Precincts at night became "much safer, quieter and cleaner", but it recommended a slight relaxation of the laws in response to the objections.

Last week the NSW Government announced an implementation of the Callinan Review, which involves a two-year trial period of the variations to the lockout measures.

During the trial period the following measures will be introduced:

  • Live entertainment venues in the Precinct are permitted to enable customer entry until 2:00am;
  • Live entertainment venues in the Precinct are permitted to serve alcohol until 3:30am;
  • The last sale of takeaway alcohol is extended to 11:00pm state-wide;
  • An extension of the liquor licence freeze in Sydney CBD and Kings Cross until 1 June 2018, with some minor changes to provide more opportunities for businesses to refurbish and improve their offerings to customers;
  • A provisional approval system for low-risk venues, such as restaurants and cafes, so they can begin trading in liquor as soon as they lodge an application; and
  • Extension of home delivery of alcohol until midnight.

The aim of this relaxation is to address objections from opponents and to restore Sydney's reputation as a vibrant night-life city and employment opportunities.

Similarly, opponents to the recent Queensland liquor licensing amendments have espoused that the changes will reflect poorly on the State's night-life, particularly in the Brisbane CBD and Gold Coast areas.

Notwithstanding the enactment of the relaxed laws in NSW, the Government has announced that it will continue to recognise the consequential risks flowing from increased alcohol consumption and density in the Precincts and will monitor the trial carefully and conduct a full evaluation at its conclusion.

NSW Licensees should be aware of the above changes and consider whether the changes will affect their licensed venue.

Any substantial regulatory changes to lockouts, take away sales and small bars will commence in January next year. Changes to liquor licence freeze will require passage of legislation due to be presented to Parliament early 2017.

Liquor & Gaming NSW has not yet released information as to the process for implementation of the changes, for example whether licensees will be required to apply to Liquor & Gaming NSW to extend their licensed trading hours to 3:30am. Clarification from the NSW Government will need to be provided to as to the process of applying for extended customer entry, service of alcohol, sale of takeaway liquor and home delivery for applicable venues.

While the effect of the recent announcement of law reform is too early to be determined at this stage, we recommend that licensees start to consider the necessary steps they will need to take to comply with the new scheme.

No doubt, the Queensland hotel industry will be keeping a close eye on these legislative changes and developments in NSW.

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Tom Young
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