By James Atkinson

It's understandable that the Australian Hotels Association NSW wanted Paul Nicolaou as its new CEO, the former Liberal Party fundraiser told TheShout exclusively this week.

"Well look, it's a Liberal Government. Let's be up front and honest, it's no good beating around the bush – you're not going to put a person with Labor ties in as the CEO," he said.

"I'm very keen to work with the Premier and the Minister [For Tourism and Hospitality] George Souris to see that the industry is looked after," he said.

"And also I'll be working with the Labor Party Opposition because I think it's important that the industry stands on its own two feet… representing the needs of the industry, whether they're Labor or Liberal or Calathumpian."

Born and raised in Sydney, Nicolaou (pictured) said he enjoys frequenting the city's pubs, and he already knows a lot of the industry's key players from his previous role.

"I know a lot of the publicans, because of the fact that they've been involved in supporting the [Liberal] Party over so many years. And because I've been involved in the political process, I understand a lot of the issues that the publicans are facing."

He stressed that it's early days in the job, but he will be trying to speak with as many of the association's members as possible once he's settled in.

"This is day six, however I've had a lot of publicans who've rung me [already]," he said.

"We've got four roving field officers who are out there, speaking to our members, so I'm very keen to go out with those people… and meet as many publicans as possible and deal with their issues and concerns and try to look at ways of expanding their businesses," he said.

What's on the agenda for 2012?

Nicolaou said the priority issues for the association this year will be ensuring NSW publicans aren't adversely impacted by the new Three Strikes regime and pushing for reform of planning regulations, as well as Federal industrial relations reform.

And he will of course be continuing the organisation's spirited fight against Tasmanian Independent MP Andrew Wilkie's proposal to introduce mandatory pre-commitment on gaming machines.

"We have an obligation, not only to our members but the community at large to say that this proposed change is ill-conceived, firstly. Secondly, it's not going to work, and it's going to cost billions of dollars to implement. It's also going to cost jobs," he said.

"It's alright for Wilkie to be sitting down in Tasmania and drawing the strings on the government and saying, 'this is what should happen and if you don't do it, then we'll pull our support'."

"It's ridiculous, the guy hasn't been out at the coalface to see what it's all about," said Nicolaou.

As for whether he will be continuing the work of former CEO Sally Fielke, or making the role his own, Nicolaou said, "a bit of both".

"Sally Fielke's done a great job with [President] Scott Leach and the Executive, so I want to build on that," he said.

"We've got an opportunity now to capitalise on the success and really take the industry forward and take the association forward."

Look out for an extended interview with Paul Nicolaou in the March edition of Australian Hotelier magazine.

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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