By Andy Young
The NSW Government has announced that it is maintaining its controversial lockout and last drinks laws, while also implementing the key recommendations of the statutory review by Hon Ian Callinan AC QC.
The Callinan Review recommended that live entertainment venues in Sydney’s ‘Entertainment Precinct’ have a later 2am lockout and 3.30am last drinks and also that state-wide takeaway and home delivery alcohol sales be extended from 10pm to 11pm. The NSW Government announced on Thursday that it will implement these recommendations as part of another two-year trial of lockout laws.
Venues that offer “genuine live entertainment, live performances or art and cultural events” will be allowed, via exemption, to offer the extra half an hour on the current restrictions.
The Liquor Stores Association NSW (LSA NSW) has welcomed the changes to the bottleshop restrictions, saying the change will benefit consumers as well as domestic and international visitors.
LSA NSW Executive Director, Michael Waters said: “The changes represent a sensible and pragmatic response from the Baird Government.
“Evidence has demonstrated there was little or no community benefit arising from the mandatory 10pm closing of all bottleshops across the state.
“The overwhelming majority of residents of NSW, as well as local and overseas visitors, consume alcohol responsibly and the 10pm closing merely penalised them, for the irresponsible actions of a small number of others.
“Our industry is still unclear about why the earlier closing restriction was introduced in the first place, so the change is welcome.”
As well as the trading hour changes, The NSW Government also announced the following amendments to the state’s liquor laws:
- Extend the liquor licence freeze in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross until 1 June 2018, with some minor changes to provide more opportunities for businesses to refurbish and improve their offerings to customers
- Increase small bar patron capacity from 60 to 100 and provide automatic extended trading to 2am for small bars in the CBD and Kings Cross
- Retain mandatory ID scanners in Kings Cross
- Improve the effectiveness of the Three Strikes disciplinary scheme for venues that repeatedly commit the most serious offences under the Liquor Act and the Minors Sanction Scheme for venues that sell alcohol to under-18s
- Introduce a provisional approval system for low-risk venues, such as restaurants and cafes, so they can begin liquor trading as soon as they lodge an application
Fergus Taylor, the Executive Director of Alcohol Beverages Australia, described the changes as a step in the right direction, but added that they need to go further.
“The alcohol beverages industry welcomes minor changes to lockout laws, the extension of takeaway and home delivery alcohol sales and the changes to encourage small bar operators – but there are further opportunities for more balanced reforms,” Taylor said.
“Businesses in Sydney and across NSW are being unfairly punished by these restrictions and we look forward to working with the Government to achieve more positive change.
“Restrictions on opening hours and continuing to limit the availability of alcohol doesn’t stop problem drinking. Pushing back lockout and last drinks times by 30 minutes are a step in the right direction but these blanket measures continue to punish responsible drinkers instead of those that cause the problems.
“Behavioural change will not be achieved by continuing with a policy of placing the blame on business operators and wholesale restrictions on the entire community. It’s possible to provide a safe and vibrant night-time environment by implementing strategies that go beyond curfews.
“If the government truly does want to create a ‘safer and more vibrant Sydney’, it should look at implementing a range of different measures, including changes to policing and public transport within the lockout zone and become less fixated on curbing nightlife and the activities of responsible drinkers with arbitrary cut-off times.”
It was a similar sentiment from the Australian Hotels Association NSW, with Director of Liquor and Policing, John Green, also describing the changes as a step in the right direction.
“Mr Callinan has found 'the sale of takeaway alcohol, whether before or after 10pm, makes little or no contribution to violence and anti-social behaviour in the Precincts'," Green said.
“Country hotels in particular have been hit hard by the take-away restrictions and the announcement of an extension until 11pm, with a further assessment after 12 months, is a step in the right direction.”
AHA NSW also welcomed the measures which will take strikes off the 'bricks and mortar' of venues.
“This is a sensible measure that is long overdue,” Green added.
“It creates a level playing field across the industry, giving business certainty while still ensuring the bad operators are punished.”
Mr Green said while the 30 minute relaxation of the lockout and cease service of alcohol for live entertainment venues in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross was a positive step, it still left many good hoteliers unfairly penalised.
“The lockout is a blanket measure that punishes the good operators along with the bad,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia’s new CEO Alec Wagstaff has said that the changes will still leave Sydney lagging behind Melbourne as a tourist destination and that they continue to penalise spirits consumers.
“Sydney will continue to lag Melbourne as a world class tourist destination despite the measures announced today in relation to lockouts, last drinks, and bottle shop closing times,” Wagstaff said.
“The Government continues to overlook the myriad of other restrictions and regulations which continue to be imposed on venues in the Sydney Entertainment Precinct.
“Small bar owners have told DSICA members they have lost count of the number of times they have had to explain to tourists that after midnight they cannot drink a single malt whisky on the rocks, but they can drink the same liquid if it’s mixed with coke or in a listed cocktail.
“If a patron wants a cocktail that isn’t on an existing printed menu at 12.01am, they have to refuse them. The same is true if they want a classic cocktail such as a Martini, Negroni or Old Fashioned, because they contain a product with more than 50 per cent ABV. Meanwhile in Melbourne the bar scene is thriving and rates of anti-social behaviour and violence continue to go down.
He added: “The changes to small bar regulation are welcome but without changes to other restrictions they will not be enough. It is one thing to allow the small bars to open longer but of little value if they unable to serve their core premium drinks such as neat spirits and some cocktails. Small bars rely on these as a point of differentiation, and existing restrictions seriously hamper their ability to operate profitably, while also putting an imposition on consumers for no clear reason.
“The distilled spirits industry strongly supports risk based regulation to provide a safe environment for Sydney. The Government confirmed that venues with a small bar licence have a lower incidence of alcohol related violence than venues operating under another type of liquor licence. At a time when industry is struggling, the removal of micro regulation and red tape which has no evidence base should be a priority for all governments.”