By Andrew Starke

The Brumby Government’s changes to Victoria’s liquor licensing system could catch some hospitality and gaming operators off-guard and cost them many thousands of dollars in fines.

Melbourne-based commercial law firm, Logie-Smith Lanyon Lawyers, has warned that many licensees had yet to fully comprehend new licensing fees, which came into effect on January 1 this year.

“What we are seeing is a typical lag period in the awareness and understanding of a new reform, as well as a lack of appreciation of some of the hidden and escalating effects of non-compliance fines within a new risk-based system,” the head of Logie-Smith’s Hospitality & Gaming Practice, Mag Kearney told TheShout.

“Liquor licence fees can increase significantly for those found to be supplying alcohol to an intoxicated person, permitting a drunk or disorderly person on the premises, supplying alcohol to a minor or permitting a minor on licensed premises. This issue is not generally comprehended by the industry.”

Kearney said that, in this context, the next stage of the government’s reform process would involve a much greater emphasis on education.

She said that the appointment of Mark Brennan last month (May 8), for two-years as the new Director of Liquor Licensing Victoria, would see education playing a key role in helping industry to adjust to the new fee structure and promote compliance.

Speaking at a hospitality and gaming industry briefing organised by Logie-Smith Lanyon earlier this month (June), Brennan said that he planned to use a range of educative measures to underwrite specific reforms within the licensed hospitality industry and to change the focus of Liquor Licensing Victoria.

These include:

  • Education and mediation as the most effective way to achieve compliance;
  • Flexibility and licensee involvement to get buy-in from licensees;
  • Conditional licences when the liquor licence is dependent upon other permits
  • Accrediting licensees who run compliant businesses;
  • Industry body involvement in the delivery of compliance training and education;
  • Supplier responsibility that translated into refusing to supply product to ‘bad egg’ licensees.

“One of the most pleasing aspects of Mr Brennan’s presentation was his attitude to change,” said Kearney.

“His take on the new risk licence fee structure is ‘licence fees are a cost of business – if you can’t afford ‘em, change business’. Mark may be absolutely correct, and in fact licence fees are not within his sphere of influence,” she said.

“However, managing fee increases still pose an enormous challenge to business people, large and small, which have committed to leases and mortgages based on the expectation of incremental increases.”

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The Shout Team

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

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