In this week’s instalment of citizen journalism, Nightclub Owners Forum convenor, Peter Iwaniuk, responds to the Victorian Government’s proposed new liquor licensing system with an open letter to Premier John Brumby.

"In my previous letters to you dated the 31st March, 7th April  22nd April & and the 17th July2009, I have repeatedly emphasised the measures that your Government needs to make Melbourne’s streets safer. I have even commissioned a report from former Melbourne Police Superintendent, Tony Warren.

Yet your Government continues to ignore the measures that urgently need to be addressed and instead continues to make counterproductive decisions without consultation, and proper research and modelling. Your Government clearly hasn’t learnt its lessons from the 2am lockout trial fiasco.

The recent proposed fee increase for late night venues is yet another example of policy on the run that will have disastrous social and economic consequences for Melbourne.

Your Government is also being deceptive. The fee hike is simply another revenue raising measure and is not required to cover costs of policing and other regulatory measures as claimed.

As recently as January this year, licence fees doubled following a report commissioned by the Government by Price Waterhouse Coopers.

In this report, Price Waterhouse Coopers stated: “The proposed fees provide for an appropriate recovery of current costs and a degree of cost allocation in line with estimated regulatory effort, consistent with the Department of Treasury and Finance’s Cost Recovery Guidelines. Regulatory effort is influenced by the incidence of misuse of alcohol which requires more concentrated enforcement activity and thus greater regulatory costs. To a degree, and in line with available information, the proposed fees reflect these greater regulatory costs across licence types”.

It is ludicrous therefore in the space of seven months to suggest that regulatory costs have increased to extent where a further minimum fee rise of over 400 percent can be justified.

Certainly we need more police, but this is simply because the population of Melbourne is increasing by approximately 200 people a day (ie around 70,000 per annum) and the Government’s major events strategy and marketing of international students is significantly increasing the number of visitors each year.

As the population and visitor numbers increase, so does the Government’s revenue from mainstream taxes and fees. Increases in police numbers should therefore be funded from mainstream revenue as occurs in relation to the ‘daytime’ economy.

The ‘night-time economy’ should not be singled out for a shameless and blatant revenue grab. Nightclubs are only a small segment of the night time economy. We have for example seen a huge increase in convenience stores and take away food outlets all making huge profits by catering to nightclub patrons and, at the same time contributing to street safety and amenity problems by encouraging people to congregate, drink in the street through take away liquor sales, and creating enormous amounts of rubbish and litter.

This notion of increasing fees according to so called risk is also a furphy. For example, late night convenience stores represent a high risk of armed robbery because they have a high cash turnover and are an easy target, yet there is no talk of charging them high taxes to cover police attendance at robberies and subsequent crime investigations.

Nightclubs are actually very safe places to be in. Given that over 350,000 people venture out every weekend in Melbourne alone, the number of incidents inside nightclubs is very small in proportion. This is because nightclubs already invest heavily in security guards, state of the art video cameras, and training of all staff in responsible service of alcohol and other measures.

Nightclubs are in effect being slugged twice by having to invest in all these expensive security and patron care measures, and are now being slugged with an exorbitant fee increase on top!

The real problem in Melbourne is out in the streets, exacerbated by the Government’s failure to address broader social and cultural issues in society.

In contrast to the Price Waterhouse Coopers report which was put out for public consultation, the recent exorbitant fee increase was not.

Clearly the Government does not want to be exposed by any detailed scrutiny of the justification and impacts of its recent fee hike nor did it, like comprehensive fee reviews conducted previously examine the capacity of the industry to absorb fee increases of such magnitude, at a time when other costs have also increased.

For example, the two music Copyright Societies, APRA & PPCA have been able to in increase their fees by a whopping 1,500%. Venues that once paid $7,000 per annum will now have to fork out over $100,000.

Clearly, the late night entertainment industry cannot continue to absorb cost increases of this magnitude and there is only a limited capacity to pass increased costs onto the public, particularly in these difficult economic times.

Of particular concern is the impact this will have on the ability of young people to be able to socialise in quality environments where there are strong measures in place to ensure their safety.

This will particularly impact on socio economically disadvantaged young people. In the media, this week the disproportionate number of offenders from the northern and western suburbs was highlighted.

Many of the young people in these suburbs already cannot afford to pay nightclub drink and entry prices at current levels. Yet they are still attracted to the City to be part of the action. People in this category buy cheap packaged liquor and, as former Superintendent Warren’s report indicates, drink it with relative impunity in the streets, and consequently are more likely to engage in anti social and violent behaviour.

The problem will only be magnified in country towns and the suburbs. Whereas in the City, there is some capacity to pass on higher costs to tourists and the more well-off, this is not the case elsewhere. There could well be massive business closures and job losses across Victoria, with significant flow – on effects to suppliers and producers.

Surely, it should be obvious to any competent policy maker that increasing the already high price differential between take away liquor prices and nightclub drink prices will only encourage more underage and more unsupervised drinking in public places and private parties.

This problem is already the major contributor to problem drinking and anti social behaviour in our society. Not only is your Government not willing to tackle this problem it wants to make it worse!

I strongly urge your Government to immediately revoke this unjustified fee hike and urgently commission a social and economic impact into the late night economy, so that any future decisions are evidenced based and will ensure that Melbourne continues to grow and function as a safe, vibrant city.

At the same time, your Government needs to focus on the real measures that will make Melbourne a safe city as I have previously informed you including:

• Increasing the presence of uniformed police in the streets (with less time spent wandering through licensed premises where there already is a strong security presence)

• Effectively enforcing drinking in public laws

• Bringing the out of control night time taxi industry into line by banning fare trawling and forcing drivers to use designated safe taxi ranks

• Banning alcohol on nightclub party buses

• Properly regulating convenience stores and fast food outlets (reducing take away liquor hours, security, litter clean up, rubbish storage, minimising congregation, etc)

• Improving public toilet facilities

• Investing in TAC public awareness campaigns

It is clearly time that you overhauled your current administrators. Your bureaucrats and advisers are out of touch and are not willing to undertake factual research and real time observation. They are not prepared to consult.

They are allowing a small minority of offenders to dictate policy and put the livelihoods of many small business operators and their staff at risk, and make the public less safe in public places."

To comment, click here.

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *