By James Atkinson
Woolworths has condemned Western Australia’s “confusing, inconsistent, cumbersome and time consuming” liquor licensing regime in a submission to a state government inquiry.
Woolworths government relations manager Michael Samara said it takes the retailer more than 18 months on average to secure a liquor licence in WA, “up to four times longer than the average in Victoria and New South Wales”.
“Holding on to commercial property for such extended periods incurs substantial holding costs,” he wrote to the Inquiry into Microeconomic Reform in Western Australia.
“This is in addition to the costs of the liquor licence application process itself which are extremely high compared to other states, with legal fees costing nine times the NSW average and 49 times the Victorian average.”
Samaras said the delays mean that prospective landlords are reluctant to be involved in a process so uncertain and fraught with regulatory risk.
“This results in applicants being forced to pay holding rent for lengthy periods with no guarantee of a favourable outcome,” he said.
“These delays and costs are compounded by a lack of transparency and certainty in the decision-making process.”
Samaras said that currently WA’s Director General of Racing, Gaming and Liquor has the power to either determine the application or refer the decision to the Liquor Commission.
“To date, all new licence applications for Dan Murphy stores have resulted in the Director General referring the application to the Liquor Commission,” he said.
“This has occurred despite the applications involved being for significantly different locations, varying socio-demographics and different levels of community objection.“
Samaras said the application for a Dan Murphy store at Cannington did not draw a single objection from a member of the public, yet the matter was still referred to the Liquor Commission for determination, a process that took almost two years.
“Woolworths’ view is that there should be a fundamental review of the liquor licensing application process with the aim of streamlining the system,” he said.
Woolworths also called for WA’s non-metropolitan liquor stores to be allowed to trade on Sundays.
Currently only hotel licence holders are allowed to make packaged liquor sales in regional areas of the state.
“This is a clearly an anti-competitive provision. In the same regional town, a hotel licence holder can sell packaged liquor but a liquor store is prevented from selling the identical packaged liquor,” Samaras said.