Regulators across Australia have adopted a largely helpful stance throughout the COVID-19 crisis, easing licence restrictions and helping venues pivot their business models.

As lockdown restrictions are eased across the country many venues are starting to welcome patrons back, albeit in much reduced numbers. A number of operators who have opened their doors to the 10-people maximums have told TheShout that they are only able to do so because of the Government’s JobKeeper payments covering wages.

In that environment of reduced capacities and unprecedented times the NSW regulator has said it will take a reasonable and flexible approach to some compliance requirements.

In a statement of regulatory intent Liquor & Gaming NSW said: “Liquor & Gaming NSW recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has created an exceptional set of circumstances and will have significant impacts on the businesses we regulate. Liquor & Gaming NSW appreciates that exceptional circumstances require flexibility on the part of the regulator.”

The regulator added: “In these circumstances, Liquor & Gaming NSW will take a common-sense and pragmatic approach to enforcing the liquor and gaming laws. In particular, it is recognised that the risk profile of certain venues has changed and measures put in place to manage these risks are, in the current environment, largely redundant.

“While legislative requirements remain in force, Liquor & Gaming NSW will have regard to the unprecedented pressures on industry and take a reasonable and proportionate response to compliance.”

Liquor takeaway and delivery sales will continue to be allowed for venues that don’t have off-premise licence as long as the taking and processing of orders occurs from the registered address of the licenced premises and there are controls in place to ensure liquor is not sold to minors or intoxicated persons.

With regard to venues operating at a much reduced capacity, the regulator said: “In recognition of this, Liquor & Gaming NSW will also take a flexible approach to enforcing certain licence conditions that are aimed at managing public amenity and safety risks at times when venues are operating at their full capacity.”

This includes licence conditions requiring:

  • the presence of security guards, responsible service of alcohol (RSA) marshals or other staff members with designated roles that are designed to help minimise harm when venues may operate as normal (e.g. designated glass collectors);
  • patron ID scanners to be operated at certain times.
  • Licensees must nevertheless take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of patrons, having regard to the number of patrons present.

The NSW Independent Bars Association told TheShout it was happy to see the regulator’s common sense approach to opening in the COVID climate.

President, Karl Schlothauer, said: “The IBA welcomes this news, this will enable more small bars to open under the current 10 customer limit. This common sense approach to security guard is something we have been advocating for a while and hopefully we can see this stay in place once we are back to the new normal.”

The news was also welcomed by Night Time Industries Association, with Chair Michael Rodrigues telling TheShout: “The NTIA welcomes the statement of regulatory intent issued earlier today by the Office of Liquor and Gaming. It recognises two key matters vital to the recovery and ongoing sustainability of the sector. Firstly, the very important cultural shift in policing and regulation that gives rise to collaboration, rather than the sometimes confrontational approach that may have existed in the past.

“Secondly, with reference to the guidance around security guards, Government is now recognising the importance of flexible terms of trading generally, and evincing a strong desire to help businesses eliminate unnecessary costs which even under normal conditions are overly burdensome.

“Taken in conjunction with the innovations like permitting bottled takeaway cocktails for small bars and cafes, we are encouraged by the overall policy direction which is picking up on the recommendations coming from the NSW Government inquiry into Sydney’s Nighttime Economy late last year. We look forward to further changes such as permitting alfresco dining, thereby increasing the effective square metre-age of venues.

“None of these changes in and of themselves are game changers – but together they improve the odds of survival and recovery for small to medium venues in particular. These are matters that the NTIA has campaigned on since its launch in November 2018 and it is pleasing to see they are now being reflected in policy.

“They say a crisis brings us together. We will be encouraging our venue members which now includes over 250 of Australia’s best bars, restaurants and pubs, to embrace this opportunity where the financial scenario makes sense, and demonstrate they can trade responsibly under physical distancing measures.”

AHA NSW Director of Liquor and Policing John Green said: “There are a number of venues with specific conditions relating to security and other requirements on certain days of the week or when performances are engaged – these conditions are simply not relevant while patron numbers remain so significantly restricted.

“As we come out of the shutdown period it is vital the regulators – police, council and Liquor and Gaming adopt a liberal approach to enforcement.

“The most appropriate way to do this is via an updated Statement of Regulatory Intent, as this process allows venues to operate during the staged recovery without requiring legislative change.”

As further restrictions are eased and other state and territory regulators change licence conditions, TheShout will continue its commitment to bringing you the latest news and information to keep you up-to-date.

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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