Draconian liquor laws devastate community rights to safe neighbourhood

Draconian liquor laws devastate community rights to safe neighbourhood

TONY_BROWN

Tony Brown BEc, Dip Ec St, LLB(Hons)

In a major concession to the powerful liquor and gambling lobby, the NSW government will introduce draconian liquor and gambling laws that dramatically strip local communities’ opportunities to oppose high risk, late trading and violent liquor and gambling venues in their local neighbourhoods.

Their excuse for the stealthy changes with no substantive public consultation and regulatory impact assessment is they require no policy implications. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Local grass root community opposition with the support of informed and experienced independent experts has become a small thorn in the side of large liquor and gambling behemoths such as Woolworths (Dan Murphys) and Coles (Liquorland) who control over 60% of all liquor outlets and poker machines.

Communities including Kurri, Casula, Condobolin, Byron Bay, Morisset, Ulladulla and Newcastle have all fought hard to successfully oppose high risk liquor outlets. Others haven’t won.

The link between the proliferation of large bottleshops selling and promoting unlimited supplies of cheap booze and domestic violence is well established. So too is the link between extended drinking times and alcohol violence and crime.

In the last 12 months, the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) considered 20 applications for bottleshops and refused 9 including ones in Kurri and Morisset because of likely detrimental social impact including domestic/family violence.

For the same period ILGA considered 14 applications to extend late trading hours. All but one was refused because of the likely detrimental social impact and public interest.

This above scorecard provides the community with some comfort that ILGA was putting the primacy of public safety ahead of the commercial interests of the industry.

The same results however, gave ammunition for the industry to demand and obtain from a compliant government, a better return on their investment of direct and indirect political donations and other favours. The most galling element of the government’s compliance is their misleading assertion the law changes are for the betterment of local communities.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Whilst some ILGA practices could be improved, I am unaware of any community submission that supported the new laws.

The new laws seriously erode the independence of ILGA. They create an additional costly and complex layer of legalism and red tape. This will only advantage the industry by allowing them with their bevy of legal representatives to appeal all unfavourable ILGA decisions to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).

In contrast, the original community objectors will have no right to appear and defend their successful objections against a harmful venue or license condition in NCAT.

Despite alcohol related harms spreading a number of kilometres from some liquor outlets, only a minute number of residents who live within 100 metres of an outlet and lodged an objection will have the remote right of also appealing against an unfavourable ILGA decision to NCAT. They face however, the daunting threat of being cross examined by senior industry legal representatives that doesn’t exist with ILGA.

The inconvenient truth ignored by the NSW government is the existing massive financial and resource power imbalance between a resident’s capacity to mount an effective and proportionate legal challenge and buy government access, influence and favours; compared with that of the might of Woolworths, Coles and other industry participants.

So who will defend the community’s interest before the adversarial NCAT that has no social impact assessment, alcohol and gambling harm prevention expertise?

We understand the community defence may be mustered by a new OLGR replacement agency Liquor & Gaming NSW within the Department of Justice controlled by Deputy Premier Troy Grant, the same Minister responsible for introducing these draconian new laws so heavily weighted in favour of the industry.

This creates a clear conflict of interest.

The lack of any meaningful “separation of powers” like new proposed planning arrangements is a further assault on our democratic system. It’s a step closer to an environment conducive to “clientelism” corruption highlighted by the High Court in rejecting developer and pub owner McCloy’s appeal against the ICAC.

The inevitable outcome of the flood of costly industry NCAT appeals and erosion of community rights apart from the further enrichment of industry lawyers, will be more high risk pubs, bottleshops, late trading premises and pokies in places where they don’t belong like near schools and vulnerable communities.

This will unfortunately translate into additional but primarily preventable alcohol and gambling related harms like domestic violence and undue disturbances that have profound and disturbing policy implications

Tony Brown
Newcastle

Summary of the community’s interface with ILGA – 12 months ended October 2015

There is no doubt the administration, regulation and enforcement of the availability, supply service and promotion of alcohol and the performance/compliance of the industry require improvement to create greater efficiencies, public cost savings and sustainable reductions in the levels of alcohol related harms.

The NSW Government under industry influence has targeted the state’s primary Independent liquor licensing approval body ILGA for special consideration including allowing full merit appeals to NCAT and handing over much of its routine functions to OLGR under the direction of the Minister.

Who will be the real ultimate winners of the loss of independence of the primary regulator?

The following statistics provide an insight into the current outcomes of the ILGA higher risk licensing approval and undue disturbance cases that directly interface with local communities.

It should be remembered that ILGA approves around 99% of the thousand or so applications it considers each year.

  1. Undue disturbance complaint reviews
  • Over the last 12 months ILGA received 10 applications from licensees to review license conditions imposed by OLGR arising from community undue disturbance complaints
  • In all 10 applications, ILGA confirmed that there was an undue disturbance warranting the application of additional licensing conditions to ameliorate the disturbances. In some cases the original OLGR conditions were modified.
  1. Consideration of Extended Trading Authorisations (outside standard trading hours)
Earlier opening Later closing Total
Approved 2 (for breakfast) 1 (midnight Sunday) 3
Rejected 0 13 13
Total 2 14 16

 

  1. Granting of Packaged Liquor (PLL) and Hotel Licenses
  PLL Hotels Total
Approved 11 4 15
Rejected 9 1 10
Total 20 5 25

 

11 October 2015

 

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