OPINION: Time for discussion on liquor licensing

THE Herald has highlighted the growing disquiet of smaller bar owners of their “unfair and inequitable licence conditions and controls”. An array of supporters have jumped on board with limited appreciation of the history.

Prior to 2008, when the independent Liquor Administration Board imposed the landmark modest reduction in late trading hours, Newcastle’s CBD was a bloodbath, with the highest rate of alcohol-related assaults in NSW.

This appalling situation that cost young lives and impeded the sensible diversification of our night-time economy was allowed to fester  after the introduction of late trading in the early 2000s.

The Newcastle Liquor Accord was chaired by the NSW Premier’s Department and Secretariat provided by Newcastle Council. The motto at the time was “Fun city, safe city”.

The architects of this scheme were pub and nightclub owners who profited from the huge volumes of alcohol poured down the necks of young drinkers  until  5am, and their protective political bedfellows who benefited from liquor and gambling political donations. 

They did not intervene, despite the carnage.

How is it that the same nightclub owners who refused to trial reduced hours before 2008 (that have since led to a 58 per cent reduction in assaults) and originally attacked the creation of small bars, now emerge as supporters? 

There is nothing inherently wrong with small licensed venues where the purpose  of supplying alcohol within reasonable time frames is not to profit from its oversupply, leading to dangerous levels of intoxication, disturbance and violence (the ‘‘binge barn” model).

But as Melbourne has shown, there is a problem with an explosion in liquor outlets (“outlet density”), known to be a contributor to alcohol-related violence. 

A street full of small bars and licensed restaurants with “primary service of alcohol” authorisations (no food required) represent, in essence, one big bar, with the attendant risk/harm consequences.

This was the basis of my submission to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority. 

We need to have an objective, unemotional discussion in Newcastle involving all stakeholders, including the community, on how we determine  the ideal number of all forms of licensed premises and  licence conditions, to continue the downward trend in violence while further diversifying our night-time economy to make it more attractive to a broad range of users not solely reliant on the supply of alcohol.

So far my continuing request for such sensible and constructive dialogue with all parties has fallen on deaf ears.

Tony Brown is an advocate for alcohol harm prevention

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