By James Atkinson
West Australian restaurants will no longer have to go through the ordeal of a public interest assessment to be able to serve alcohol without a meal, under modified regulations introduced this week by the State Government.
Western Australia is currently awaiting the findings of a broader review of the state's liquor regulations.
But Premier Colin Barnett on Thursday announced that in the meantime, the Government had fast-tracked changes to make it easier for restaurants that hold 120 people or fewer to serve alcohol without a meal, provided they are seated at tables.
"This is about giving people more choice to have a drink at a restaurant in a responsible fashion, instead of only being limited to pubs and bars," Barnett said.
The Premier said the changes would take effect on June 4 and reduce the red tape, time and expense for restaurants applying for a Liquor Without a Meal (LWM) permit.
"The key change is the removal of the cumbersome public interest assessment for these smaller, low risk venues – that will slash the time and expense in the approval process, which could take months under the old system," he said.
"We're pleased to be helping these small businesses in this way. Restaurants should now be able to receive their permits within 10 working days, instead of months. In addition, we have reduced the application fee from $431 to $50."
Barnett said the Government remained committed to introducing legislation so that restaurants holding 120 people or fewer would automatically have the ability to serve alcohol without a meal as part of the licence.
"By changing the regulations we can make these changes quickly, rather than see restaurants held up while legislation is prepared," the Premier said.
"These changes will be enshrined in legislation once we have the full report from the Liquor Control Act Review committee, along with any other reforms."
Racing and Gaming Minister Terry Waldron said are 819 licensed restaurants in WA, but at the moment only 136 have approval to serve alcohol without a meal.
"We estimate there are between 400 and 500 that could qualify for a permit under these changes," he said.
Australian Hotel Association (WA) CEO Bradley Woods said the policy "ensures that diners must be seated at a table while drinking in a restaurant, an important distinction between restaurants and bars, hotels and taverns".
"We look forward to working with the Barnett Government on streamlining further liquor licensing systems and red tape so as to reduce unnecessary administrative burdens, but maintaining the integrity of harm minimisation and responsible service of alcohol," he said.