By Andrew Starke
A specialist liquor and gaming law firm has come out swinging against the NSW Government’s proposed ‘Three Strikes’ legislation calling it ‘an extraordinary attack on the civil liberties of licensees’.
The Liquor Amendment (Three Strikes) Bill 2011, which is expected to be considered by the NSW Parliament when it resumes after the winter break in August, is designed to ‘get tough’ on ‘rogue venues’.
However Grant Cusack, principle of Grant Cusack & Associates, says the proposed legislation goes too far and may lead to police corruption.
“The Bill is an extraordinary attack on the civil liberties of licensees,” he said. “It provides that a strike will be recorded merely upon the allegation that a breach has occurred.”
Even if a licensee defends the allegation in court, the strike will still count against the venue.
”It is extraordinary to think that clients who successfully establish their innocence will still face automatic punishment under the Bill,” said Cusack.
”The potential for police corruption is obvious.”
Aside from licensing restrictions, the proposed regulation would permit the closing of a premise for up to six months on a second strike.
A third strike would result in the automatic cancellation of a licensee’s liquor licence and disqualification from ever holding another such licence.
”The punishment will be out of all proportion to the offences for which they are charges,” said Cusack.
“Most offences carry a maximum penalty of $11,000 if proven. If an automatic strike is recorded, this is likely to substantially devalue a hotel, perhaps by hundreds of thousands of dollars, as purchasers will pay far less for a hotel which has a strike and which has the potential for the licence to be cancelled.”
This may have a State-wide knock-on effect as banks, already spooked by debt levels in the pub sector, reevaluate their lending covenants.
Cusack argues that Government already has the means at its disposal to oversee the industry and punish those operators who repeatedly offend.
”The liquor legislation already contains several layers of regulation,” he said.
“It arms regulators with an arsenal of powers to deal with rogue operators.
”Those existing powers should be vigorously enforced instead of subjecting the hotel industry to yet another layer of regulation – particularly regulations which are inherently unfair and which positively deter investment in the NSW hotel sector.”