By Clyde Mooney

In what is believed to be an attempt to stealthily wrest control from less desirable venues, the Victorian Baillieu Government quietly put forth the foundations of a new demerit point system, inside an appeasement deal for live music.

Amendments to the Victorian Liquor Act will now take into consideration the requirements of live music venues, but also threaten punitive measures against venues, based on criteria currently under consideration in parliament.

The new laws most significantly put blame on venues for a negative effect on the amenity outside the venue through patron offenses that include patron swearing, littering and vandalism – even if still inside the premises.

Infringements carry the risk of being interpreted by police and compliance officers as breaches of the Liquor Act, with appropriately stiff penalties.

The proposals are meeting strong opposition from Victorian licensees, with industry advocacy group Nightclub Owners Forum (NOF) producing a scathing report on the failings of the Bailieu Government in terms of amenity provision in the Melbourne CBD.

Speaking to TheShout, NOF spokesperson, David Butten, speculates on the motives of police and government, and pledges ongoing resistance.

“The recent legislative changes involving a demerits points scheme and a new broad brushed definition of amenity clearly indicate that the Baillieu Government is maintaining the vendetta against late night entertainment venues started by the previous Brumby Labour Government.

“The industry was not consulted on any of these changes and will now campaign vigorously against them.

“The situation in Melbourne is also not being helped by a poorly coordinated and often vindictive police force, who often raid licensed venues with squads of 20 or more police simply to check on technical compliance and paperwork, whilst not having any patrols whatsoever on busy streets. The new law on amenity will create a field day for police who are out to get specific venues or outspoken operators.”

One outspoken operator, Jon Perring, director of Melbourne’s iconic Tote Hotel, wrote to the Minister in an attempt to clarify the industry’s concerns with the proposed changes. “…it would be feasible that the venue could unfairly face disciplinary action as a result of the proposed amendment.”

Perring’s correspondence also highlights the fact that the number of overall assaults has risen 31 per cent since 2004, while the percentage of those occurring in licensed premises has dropped.

The amendments are representative of the government’s ongoing battle with violence associated with licensed premises nationally, coming poignantly soon after New South Wales put the final touches on its three strikes legislation.

Unlike NSW, the Victorian amendments were not applied after consultation with the industry.

The Shout Team

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

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