NSW liquor reforms slammed

THE state government has unveiled reforms to liquor and gaming regulation that it says will improve efficiency and reduce confusion but not change "policy settings".

But Greens MLC John Kaye and Newcastle community advocate Tony Brown are angry about the changes, saying they seriously weaken the community's ability to withstand the power of the hotel and club industries.

Mr Brown pointed to official figures showing that Lower Hunter bottle shop numbers were increasing at 10 times the rate of population growth to demonstrate that the system needed tightening, not loosening, which the alcohol lobby wanted.

He said there had been no consultation about the new regulatory structure and endorsed Dr Kaye's intention to force an upper house inquiry into the changes.

Defending the moves, Deputy Premier Troy Grant said a new regulator, Liquor and Gaming NSW, would replace the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR) and assume most compliance, disciplinary and licensing functions.

Mr Grant said the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) would focus its attentions on "high-risk licence applications such as new bottle shops or nightclubs", while retaining decisions on casino licences and poker machine numbers.

Mr Grant said the government had tough restrictions on licensed venues including lockout laws, 10pm bottle shop closures and stronger penalties for serving minors.

"Liquor laws in NSW have never been tougher, and we need a regulator that is equipped to effectively enforce these laws," he said.

He said the community could go to ILGA to appeal against decisions by Liquor and Gaming NSW, and ILGA's decisions could be appealed in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

But Dr Kaye said the existing regulatory system had been "weakened to appease a powerful lobby".

He said ILGA would be stripped of its staff and its powers moved into the government, away from independent oversight.

He said the government had stressed the community's ability to appeal decisions but the real strength went to the liquor industry, which had far more resources to "use expensive lawyers to overturn decisions that did not go its way".

Dr Kaye said ILGA had long been under attack from the gambling and alcohol lobbies and the government had effectively gutted it.


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