As previously reported by Deacons, the Liquor and Other Acts Amendment Act 2008 (Amendment Act) was passed by the Queensland Government last month. The Amendment Act significantly amends the Liquor Act 1992 (Qld) (Liquor Act) with an aim to enhance the role of harm minimisation, increase administrative efficiency, clarify existing provisions and address anomalies.1 Harm minimisation is now the first objective of the Liquor Act.2
A new Section 224 has been inserted to introduce Liquor Accords into the Liquor Act as a voluntary harm minimisation initiative. According to the Explanatory Notes, the intention for the inclusion of Liquor Accords is to clarify the purpose and membership of a Liquor Accord for a locality.
What is a Liquor Accord?
Under section 224 of the Liquor Act, a Liquor Accord is defined as an agreement, memorandum of understanding or other arrangement entered into by interested parties within a local community about liquor related issues.3 A Liquor Accord is created for the purposes of promoting responsible practices in relation to the sale and supply of liquor at licensed premises, minimising harm caused by alcohol abuse and misuse and associated violence and minimising alcohol-related disturbances, or public disorder.4
Members who sign up to a Liquor Accord usually include representatives from licensed premises, businesses, councils, police, government departments and other community organisations.5
Liquor Accords in Queensland
It is not compulsory in Queensland for holders of a liquor licence to be a member of a Liquor Accord.
The new provision in the Liquor Act attempts to achieve the purpose of harm minimisation by providing a definition of Liquor Accords and their function, but does not provide any guidance on powers or obligations.
We assume the Government will soon draft supporting regulations and guidelines to assist in the interpretation of the new provisions of the Liquor Act and also provide some detail on how some of the new harm minimisation initiatives will work. We hope these regulations and guidelines will soon spell out the practical operations of a Liquor Accord and the obligations that Liquor Accord members must observe.
Does the new section 224 go far enough?
While the Liquor Act now "recognises" Liquor Accords, the NSW and Victorian liquor legislation6 spells out the powers and obligations of the Liquor Accords in those states.
A prime example of a power that NSW Liquor Accords members have under the Liquor Act 2007 (NSW) (NSW Act) is the power to ban a repeatedly troublesome patron from all member-licensed venues for certain periods of time.7
Under section 78 of the NSW Act, an application can be made to the NSW Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority (NSW Authority) to issue an order banning a person from entering or remaining on licensed premises. This type of order can be made in circumstances where the person has been repeatedly intoxicated, violent, quarrelsome or disorderly on or in the immediate vicinity of licensed premises. The director, the police or a licensee who is a member of a Liquor Accord can seek this order. Under this section, an order to ban a person from entering or remaining on licensed premises can apply to multiple venues that are members of a Liquor Accord.
The person who is the subject of a banning order application has an opportunity to make a submission to the NSW Authority before any decision is made. The NSW Authority's decision cannot be reviewed simply because a person does not agree with it. The Supreme Court of NSW can consider claims of a denial of natural justice or concerns about due process.
Why join a Liquor Accord?
As of 1 January 2008, annual licence fees will be determined on a risk-based approach. The compliance history of licensed premises will be considered and additional fees charged for those licensed premises with a poor compliance history.
While the Liquor Act is silent on the issue, we assume that the Queensland Government may view voluntary membership of a Liquor Accord favourably when considering the compliance history of a venue in calculating liquor licensing fees for the relevant assessment period, thereby potentially reducing the liquor licensing fees payable by the club because it is itself a member of a compliant Liquor Accord. However, please be aware that the government has not provided any solid assurances of this to date.
In our view, while Liquor Accords are a proactive strategy to minimise harm from the sale and supply of alcohol, Queensland licensees will require comprehensive guidelines to be drafted outlining the powers available under a Liquor Accord and the duties of members of a Liquor Accord. We assume that the liquor regulations (being those made under the newly amended Liquor Act) will include provisions which mirror those in NSW and provide guidance in relation to the establishment and ongoing administration of Liquor Accords. Now would be the best time for interested parties to lobby the Queensland Government for this to be achieved. We believe that the NSW Act provides the best model for Liquor Accords in this regard.
What advantages licensees will obtain from joining a Liquor Accord at this stage is uncertain. However, Liquor Accords are seen by the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing as a means of reducing liquor-related harm in the community. Considering harm minimisation is the primary objective of the Liquor Act, licensees who voluntarily join a Liquor Accord will no doubt be seen by the OLGR as taking a positive step to comply with the spirit and purpose of the Liquor Act.
1 Liquor and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2008 – Explanatory Notes
2 Liquor and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2008 – Explanatory Notes
3 Section 224 of the Liquor Act
4 Section 224 of the Liquor Act
5 Queensland Treasury website at www.liquor.qld.gov.au/Accords.html
6 Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 (Victoria) (Victorian Act) and Liquor Act 2007 (NSW) (NSW Act)
7 Section 78 of the NSW Act
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.