AN email glitch has given the public an extra two weeks to lodge submissions to a review of the controversial “Newcastle solution” licensing conditions.
With supporters of the restrictions in a battle with the Australian Hotels Association about the impact of the decade-old regulations, news of the extra time will come as a relief to those who had complained about a short time-frame for the review.
Community campaigner Tony Brown has stepped up the fight to ensure that the Newcastle conditions are not watered down in any way, releasing a trove of documents obtained under freedom of information legislation to support his case.
In response, the president of the Hunter branch of the AHA, Rolly de With, said the industry’s opponents were trying to prevent change for the better.
“They are entitled to their opinion but the truth of the matter is that the AHA submission does not request a variation to closing times nor the removal of the lockout,” Mr de With said.
The Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority had originally given parties four weeks from November 21 to December 13 to lodge submissions but it extended this until January 24 after a public outcry.
A spokesperson for the authority said that on Friday it discovered a technical problem with the email address for receiving submissions, and had decided to extend the consultation period until February 7.
News of the extra time came as concerns were raised over a submission going to the review from Newcastle City Council, following a notice of motion from Greens councillor John MacKenzie in December.
Cr MacKenzie had wanted a submission that supported keeping the “special licence conditions as part of the suite of measures to reduce rates of alcohol-related violence in the city”.
But Cr MacKenzie said the council eventually voted for a recommendation that council chief executive Jeremy Bath would lodge the submission “in consultation with” lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes.
This proposal had slightly different wording, saying the council had “support for appropriate evidence based special license conditions as part of the suite of measures to reduce rates of alcohol-related violence in the city”.
Mr Brown said the importance of the council submission to the review by barrister John Horton meant it should be seen by councillors before it was sent off.
Responding to questions about this concern, a council spokesperson said the final submission would be presented to the council’s “executive management team”, adding that the council understood that all submissions would be made public by the review.
“Council staff are currently examining what elements of the current system work well and what elements need to be strengthened,” the spokesperson said. “We expect to put forward some suggestions to promote a safe and diverse night time economy in Newcastle.”
Cr MacKenzie said he was unhappy with the idea that councillors would not see the submission before it went in.
“My intention was very clear in that we needed to preserve the conditions in the Newcastle solution,” Cr MacKenzie said. “It’s very important that we don’t abandon a work in progress just because a review has been called for.”
He wondered why the council management could not simply email a draft to councillors for comment, even if there was not time to discuss the submission formally at a council meeting.
The next council meeting is on Tuesday, a day before the previous closing date of January 24, but with the deadline for submissions extended until February 7, there would theoretically be room for the council to discuss the submission in general business.
The spokesperson for the liquor authority said there was no specific deadline for the review to be finished, and while submissions would be made public, the authority had not decided when this would be.
As part of his review, Jonathan Horton QC has met with key stakeholders in Newcastle to get their feedback and views on the licence conditions that currently apply to venues in Newcastle's CBD,” the spokesperson said.
“These meetings will continue this month. Once Mr Horton has finalised his review and drafted his report, the matter will be considered by the authority.”
Mr de With said the AHA was not fighting closing times or the lockouts but it wanted the “single drink” restriction moved from 10pm to midnight.
At present the Newcastle laws are applied across the CBD to all licensed premises but Mr de With said the AHA wanted the review to allow individual exemptions where appropriate, including venues with live music. He also wanted an end to the phrase “Newcastle solution”, saying it implied a problem that no longer existed.
“I’m saying there should be some discretion for those venue operators who do the right thing,” Mr de With said.
“There should not be one rule for all for all. New applications or small bar licences or a new restaurant should be judged on its merits, not a blanket ‘no’.”
Mr de With also took aim at academic studies showing that the Newcastle lockout had been a major driver in the reduction of street crime, saying Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) figures showed that a number of areas in NSW had larger crime reductions than the Newcastle CBD, without lockouts.
An AHA analyis of the 2008 Newcastle conditions lodged with the Horton review uses BOSCAR data to claim that assaults in the Newcastle local government area actually rose by 21 per cent between 2009 and 2011.
It says that while “incidents of non-domestic assault on licensed premises between 2008 and 2015 fell by 51.4 per cent in the Newcastle council area, they also fell by 45 per cent across NSW.
The AHA submission said the number of assaults in an and around Maitland licensed premises fell by 75 per cent. In the Hills district in Sydney, the fall was 73 per cent. Leichhardt was down 65 per cent, Liverpool 62 per cent, Dubbo 58 per cent and Fairfield 54 per cent.