By Vanessa Cavasinni, editor Australian Hotelier
In the Callinan Review submissions, the 1:30am lockouts and 10pm takeaway liquor sales were unsurprisingly opposed by hotel operators. One other aspect of the Liquor Amendment Act 2014 that was vigorously opposed by many hotel stakeholders was the Periodic Liquor Licence Fee Scheme.
The annual licence fee scheme was introduced in New South Wales in 2015 by the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) with the intention of the industry contributing to regulatory costs, and that high-risk venues would pay higher fees.
Merivale – one of Sydney’s largest hospitality groups – while not opposed to the fee scheme in principle, did suggest in their submission that its current format unfairly does not adequately differentiate between small and large venues, disproportionately punishing larger venues.
“The effect is to punish an otherwise well-operated and well-managed large venue for one incident, regardless of its type. For example, if a large and popular venue that attracts 50,000 patrons a week has one minor assault committed in a year, it is treated the same as a small venue that attracts 500 patrons a week and has one grievous bodily harm incident recorded in a year in calculating the compliance history risk loading. This is akin to assessing a driver travelling 5km over the speed limit in the same risk category as another driver travelling 50km over the limit or recording a dangerously high blood alcohol level.”
The Coalition of City of Sydney Liquor Accords suggested in their submission that its members were opposed the additional risk-based loadings, such as late trade loading, location risk loading and patron capacity risk loading.
“The introduction of the fee has come at a time when many late trading venues in particular have reduced income and turnover because of the special licence conditions implemented in the CBD and Kings Cross, namely reduced trading hours, limited entry times and decreased patron visitation.”
The coalition recommended that the late night trading fee should have a broader base for any business trading after 10pm, in accordance with the risk data from BOCSAR, and that revenue raised from that loading should go towards a more visible police presence in late trading areas.
The late trading element of the liquor licence fee scheme has also been questioned by hoteliers outside of Sydney, who are struggling with the added fees. Both a partner in the McRod Hotel Group, which owns seven hotels mainly in Newcastle, Queanbeyan and Wagga Wagga, and the director of the Coast Hotel in Coffs Harbour said that the late trading fee has severely impacted their businesses.
The Coast Hotel has a 24/hour licence for its ground floor, however the upstairs cocktail lounge and beer garden both must close at midnight. The hotel is essentially paying an extra $5000 to have one bar trade late, but the freehold owner will not allow a reduction in hotel hours, as it would de-value the property – adding an extra financial burden to the licensee.
This has been a similar experience for John McRedmond, a partner in McRod Hotel Group, where the majority of hotels have a 3am trading license, but generally close at 1am and only on the weekend.
”I am aware we could apply to have the trading hours reduced and make a saving on the loadings, however we are reluctant to make the change to the license as this has an intrinsic value to the hotel. I would argue that our hotels are already low risk business models and have a strict compliance to the liquor laws. If anything, the imposition of these loadings will encourage us to introduce later trading in our hotels,” stated Redmond.
Over 1800 submissions have been made to the Callinan Review.