By James Atkinson
A Victorian Government plan to introduce demerit points in addition to fines for liquor licence breaches is 'excessive and unwarranted', according to the Australian Hotels Association (AHA).
Under new legislation introduced by the Baillieu Government, Victorian liquor licences can be automatically suspended for a fixed period if they reach a demerit points threshold.
Demerit points would be allocated in respect of offences relating to the service and presence on licensed premises of intoxicated patrons and minors – the same offences that lead to the current compliance history risk fees on liquor licences. The demerits would attach to the licence for a period of three years.
AHA CEO Brian Kearney told TheShout the Victorian demerits approach provides an 'excess of additional penalty' beyond the existing financial penalties for licence breaches.
"Our concern will be that it is properly used to target problem venues, rather than in an arbitrary fashion," he said.
Kearney said the consequences of licence suspension could be disastrous, and warned against compliance inspectors taking an over-zealous approach to enforcement by 'setting out to get licensees through this process'.
But he said that with the Coalition controlling both houses of Victoria's Parliament, the bill's passage through is inevitable, and the AHA expects the legislation to be in place before Christmas.
Victorian consumer affairs minister Michael O'Brien said demerit points will be allocated where a licensee has paid an infringement (either in part or in full), has been successfully prosecuted, or has refused to pay their infringement notice for so long that an enforcement order has been issued for the infringement notice.
"If licensees serve alcohol to drunks or unsupervised minors on licensed premises, they will be hit by demerit points in addition to big fines," he said.
"This will not only hit a badly-run business in the hip pocket, it will also hit its reputation."
Incurring five demerit points in any three-year period will trigger an automatic 24-hour suspension, while 10 points will lead to a seven-day suspension and 15 points will result in a 28-day suspension.
The AHA's Kearney said its members should bring any infringements to the association's attention so they can be assessed before any fine is paid and demerits incurred.