May 30 2012
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:56):I move:
That the general regulations under the Liquor Licensing Act 1997 concerning annual fees, made on 3 May 2012 and laid on the table of this council on 15 May 2012 be disallowed.
I so move to draw this council’s attention to the current schedule that has been put before licensees of so-called risk-based licences. Members would no doubt be very well aware that in the past year in this place we had a long debate about liquor licensing in this state, and certainly the 3am lock-out proposal was a feature of that particular debate that was in fact defeated in this council.
I draw member’s attention to the fact that this new so-called risk-based licensing schedule has put operators of both small and large venues, who operate beyond 2am, in the position of having to pay many thousands of dollars extra for their liquor licensing fees each year, and given in some cases 11 days to decide whether or not to change their practices, to lower their patron rates, to shut earlier or to negotiate with the commission further under penalty of being given an extra 20 per cent whack on top of these exorbitant fees, should they not make that decision within that 11 day timeframe, or in fact having to find the money now to cough up in a three-week period, without these licensees having been properly consulted or properly informed before they received the notification that in a few weeks they would have to find a rather significant amount of money under the new regime, which to all appearances seems to be a back-door way of ensuring that we have venues in this state shutting not at 3am but at 2am.
Many people I have spoken to are involved with small venues, and particularly cultural venues have expressed concerns that, for example, La Bohème on Gouger Street, which was licensed previously for 209 people, is a late night venue that services arts clientele, particularly theatregoers into the early hours, and they have had to drop their capacity to under 200 and shorten the opening hours to close earlier, despite the fact that they are a targeted late night venue with an older and very well-behaved clientele in that cocktail bar serving mainly theatre patrons and arts goers. They have had to make the decision to change their business practices in these few weeks because they were looking at $5,000 or $6,000 at least more a year for their licence, again with no warning, with no consultation.
They have chosen to change their practices, as has the Grace Emily Hotel, which is licensed for a little over 300 people, although typically it would not have more than 200 in that venue. It will also close earlier than it has previously. Neither of those venues have ever had chronic problems with police, problems with violence, have been what I would call a risk-based proposition. They are small businesses, run by small business people, trying to get on and make a living and doing the right thing. They are providing alcohol responsibly and are providing niche markets in this city to ensure that we are not just supporting in this state the pokie barns and the big warehouse venues.
They are very small venues servicing, in both of those cases, an older niche market.
Another venue that serves a slightly younger market is the Edinburgh Castle Hotel. Again, I have spoken to the managers there who are most concerned about these fees but say if they do not open after 2am they will not make enough of a profit to keep going. So they will choose, in their words, to sell $25,000 worth of beer more a year to ensure that they can pay the new fees which are some thousands of dollars.
Ranging in general conversations with people, they say roughly between $5,000 to $6,000 to some over $10,000 is what they are looking at as an unexpected, extra or additional financial burden. Again, the Edinburgh Castle Hotel informs me that it has not had previous problems with violence in its venue, nor has it had any cause to believe that it was seen as a risky venue. That particular venue, certainly like many others, see it as a cash grab and they suggest that, for them, the impact is quite catastrophic. They are fortunate in that they have a landlord who is quite supportive. Other venues do not have landlords who will enable them to change their opening times or be more flexible so some might be caught in a bind, and I understand that there is at least one venue in the city where the landlord expects them to open late so they are going to have to cop this money even if they cannot make it, and they may look at going out of business.
Quite wisely, the proprietor at the Edinburgh Castle Hotel suggests that perhaps risk-based licensing might actually be based on risk. That would probably be by having a look at the liquor enforcement branch’s top 10 venues which are not doing the right thing or are contravening, and having an oversight committee to ensure that where licensees are not doing the right thing they are the ones who fall foul of the extra penalties associated with the risk-based licensing. This, to me, seems to be quite a logical solution and certainly one that might have been in the sight of government had it actually spoken to licensees about this scheme.
In Canberra, when similar laws about risk-based licensing were proposed, there was a several hundred page document which consulted with licensees, political parties and the Hotels Association. Unfortunately here we do not have a small bars association but in WA they do, and I am sure that these sort of measures may see South Australia soon have a small bars association. However, similar groups should be consulted before such measures are taken by government. It is simply good governance and it is simply good democracy to ensure that you talk to stakeholders and assess the impact of your legislation before you simply announce it. I dare say you are going to be in a situation where the Weatherill government has, in this case, declared and will have to defend.
In recent months we have seen a change of heart from the Weatherill government and, indeed, support for an Adelaide that is vibrant, that supports small venues and bars and supports cultural venues. In fact, the Premier’s own staff member Lois Boswell is on a committee charged with investigating that very issue. That was broached at a liquor licensing forum that I attended, and the Hon. John Gazzola and the Hon. Michelle Lensink attended recently, which looks to support little niche venues providing the basis for a vibrant city. That will keep our young people here and will create opportunities for small business. It will that create safer communities because you have people not in the big venues and then out on the streets but you will have a whole range of options for people to go out and enjoy themselves.
As I say, I hope that this will not be a declare and defend situation but that the government will see fit to revise and review this particular so-called risk-based schedule for the licensees and perhaps take a step back and come up with a system that is going to truly be risk-based, that will punish those who do the wrong thing and will support those who do the right thing. In fact, what we want are venues that are contributing to and creating good and safe environments.
You only have to look, as I say, to some of the work done in Canberra to see that there is a range of models there that could be adopted, where you do not sacrifice the budget bottom line but you actually have better ways of managing this so called risk-based licensing.
I think it is accepted by all of us in this place that alcohol is a problem in our community and violence is a problem in our community, but this particular scheme does nothing to address either the provision of alcohol that is not responsible nor address violence. So, I think going back to the drawing board on this particular regulation is not only in order but should be done urgently.
I am sure all members in this place are aware that there is widespread community support for a reform to liquor licensing laws. Many of you would have received, as I have, the emails from the Raise the Bar campaign, which was launched at that particular liquor licensing event at the Jade Monkey, that the Hon. John Gazzola, the Hon. Michelle Lensink and myself attended, with, I do believe, the Lord Mayor serving pizza, which was possibly the most controversial event during that particular forum, because in fact we were all in accord that we need a vibrant culture, we need to keep Adelaide creative and we need to support live local music, and I would hope that we can all find accord here as well.
South Australia does not currently have an appropriate small bar or general bar licence. In fact, we have an archaic licensing system which does not nurture the arts or live music, and does not, in this case, support those small niche venues, in particular, who are doing the right thing. I certainly support liquor licensing reform. I support the live music industry. I believe that we need to support those venues that support both of those things.
The government could also look overseas, where Ontario, for one, has risk-based licensing, which in fact is not a one-size-fits-all approach, as has been done here, where the government seems to have taken the attitude that after 2am nothing good ever happens, which is in fact an episode of How I Met Your Mother rather than what forms good government policy. In fact, after 2am good things can happen and currently they do happen at places like La Bohème.
I commend the work of Driller Yet Armstrong, in particular. I have not contacted the venue that he is involved with, Sugar on Rundle Street, but Driller Jet has actually started a Facebook group on this particular issue which I have only stumbled upon in the last few hours but it already has over 4,000 members. So, people, I expect those emails to keep coming to us that we have been receiving for the past few weeks because they have just put the link to those emails up there. They have also put a link to a circulating petition, which I understand the Hon. Michelle Lensink may be involved in. So, we have not heard the last of this issue.
I commend Driller Jet Armstrong for trying to galvanise community support. As I say, that community support is in the many thousands already, and that is in only a short few weeks. Driller Jet has actually sought a meeting with the Premier’s office, and I understand that that happened last week, so I would hope to hear from the government that it has listened to the concerns and will be willing to revise this particular regulation. He also wrote to the commissioner. I read, on Facebook, the letter he wrote to the commissioner where he asked the commissioner to justify why this has happened. The commissioner’s response seems to indicate that it is simply a budget measure.
As I say, if this is simply a budget measure, there are ways of cracking this nut that do not punish well behaving, responsible venues, and there are better ways to impose risk-based licensing that look at issues such as violence and contravention of liquor licensing laws and ensure that the people who contravene those particular laws are the ones who are taking on the risk and paying extra for the risk, or, in fact, losing their licences. There is no soft approach here from the Greens. We are very hard line when it comes to addressing alcohol-fuelled violence. However, this is not the way to do it.
With those few words, I commend this motion to the council and say that this will not be the last that you hear of this issue. I look forward to members of both the opposition and the government making a contribution and, hopefully, this erroneous decision being revised and a better way forward being developed.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. G.A. Kandelaars.