The NSW Premier announced on 25 June 2009 a 12 month freeze on
the grant of new liquor licences, effective immediately.
The freeze was agreed at the first meeting of the newly
established Sydney Liquor Taskforce co-chaired by Premier Rees and
Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
The Premier has announced that although legislation will need to
be introduced to implement the freeze, it will be effective from 25
June 2009. This will mean that any legislation that is introduced
will need to have retrospective effect.
The limited details available at the moment include:
Targeted areas will include Kings Cross, the Oxford St precinct
in Darlinghurst and parts of the southern CBD. The exact boundaries
are yet to be worked out.
There will be some exemptions – again, the details
are yet to be worked out. However, it seems likely that no
exemptions will be permitted for "high risk" venues such
as hotels, nightclubs and late-trading venues, with the Premier
noting "a common sense approach is needed and licences for low
risk venues including restaurants, special events and cafes will be
The freeze on new licences will have a devastating impact on
investors and developers who have purchased or leased property
within the affected areas for the purpose of establishing licensed
premises. The freeze is particularly bad news for those who were
already in the process of preparing a licence application or
obtaining development consent.
It is not clear whether the freeze will also apply to the
removal of a licence to a location within the affected areas,
although this seems likely given the goal of preventing any further
licensed premises. Movements of existing licences within the
affected areas may also be prohibited by the freeze, as the
Liquor Act treats the removal of a licence to a new
location the same way as a grant of a new licence in a new
location. If this is the case, venues within the affected areas
will not be able to relocate to new premises within the affected
The retrospective effect of the freeze will cause great
uncertainty, as fundamental details of the freeze, such as the type
of premises that will be affected and the boundaries of the freeze
zone, have not yet been worked out. It is also not clear whether
the freeze will apply to licence applications that have already
been lodged and are currently being processed.
The freeze comes at a time when the City of Sydney has recently
released the Late Night Trading Research Project, inviting
submissions from the community and other interested stakeholders.
The Project contains the first research into the concepts of
"cumulative impact" and a "saturation point" of
licensed premises. The Project is open for submissions until 31
July 2009 and makes several suggestions for "evidence-based
strategies that local governments might reasonably implement to
reduce the impact of alcohol-related crime on their
Although the Project is still open for submissions for another
five weeks, the City of Sydney and the Premier appear to have
"jumped the gun" and have begun implementing significant
changes without considering such submissions or even waiting for
the consultation period to close.
Exactly how the freeze will be implemented and its lawfulness is
yet to be seen. The process for seeking exemptions and any
transitional provisions will clearly be important. Affected
stakeholders should keep an eye out for any developments and should
carefully consider their ability to apply for an exemption, or to
challenge the freeze, once more details are known.
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