Liquor authority says Newcastle licensing restrictions to stay after Horton review

THE Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority says it is considering “only minimal changes” to Newcastle’s late-night trading restrictions, after the Horton Report recommended leaving closing hours and the lockout laws where they were.

The Australian Hotels Association, which called last year for the review of the 2008 trading laws, said it was disappointed that Newcastle would still be subject to a “one size fits all” licensing regime.

“A decade on, ILGA is considering continuing with one-size-fits-all blanket measures, rather than accepting Dr Jonathan Horton’s view that venues that demonstrate good practices and that pose a lower risk ought to enjoy less restrictive conditions than those which do not,” AHA Newcastle/Hunter president Rolly De With said.

Community campaigner Tony Brown, one of the main voices opposed to the AHA, welcomed the liquor authority’s decision, saying it had come as a surprise.

But he cautioned that it was only an interim decision: the authority would give licensees 21 days to respond before making its final decision.

He said Dr Horton’s “venue-by-venue” recommendation would “provide extra ammunition” for those who supported extending trading hours.

“Dr Horton says he supports the existing regime, but by encouraging venues to apply for license variations one at a time, he is leaving the door open to dismantling the uniform conditions in a death of a thousand cuts,” Mr Brown said.

Dr Horton’s support for exemptions for venues displaying “good compliance” was not mentioned by liquor authority chairman Philip Crawford in his Monday morning announcement.

Later, a spokesperson said: “After carefully reviewing the Horton Report, the authority has decided against further considering this option.” 

“The case for maintaining existing patron lockout restrictions in the 14 Newcastle venues, and for maintaining requirements for the sale or supply of liquor to cease 30 minutes before closing, was strong,” Mr Crawford said.

Two “minimal” changes were specified: ending a security radio network between the 14 venues, and annual reporting of management plans, rather than quarterly.

Mr Crawford said the Horton review received more than 90 submissions from stakeholders including the police, public health bodies, academics, licensed businesses, industry bodies, special interest groups and individuals.

In the summary of his 96-page report, Dr Horton said the Newcastle restrictions of 2008 and a similar set imposed on Hamilton in 2010 had “brought about a reduction in alcohol-related violence” and “created an environment in which more licensed venues appeared without an increase in violence”.

A decade later, the central questions was “whether a solution of this or a different kind is now called for, and, indeed whether there is a problem which requires a solution at all”.

“What is required is a licensing regime that prevents a return to past problems and allows for the city to develop in a balanced way and in accordance with community expectations, needs and aspirations,” Dr Horton said.

“Both the reduction and extension of trading hours (or moving the time at which the lockout commences) would introduce uncertainty. “The former would likely adversely affect the economy, late night activities and the development of related industries; the latter, the amenity of community life and harm associated with the misuse and abuse of liquor.”

But Dr Horton said that flexibility in the licensing regime could encourage compliance, with venues that demonstrate “good practices and pose a lower risk” enjoying “less restrictive conditions”.

He said the liquor authority could trial licence variations to see whether they could be made permanent or extended to other venues.

“The views I have formed are based upon a proposition upon which all submitters seemed to be unanimous: a return to the violence and anti-social behaviour that existed before the Board imposed the conditions in 2008 must be avoided,” Dr Horton said.

Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes welcomed the report, saying “Dr Horton is aligned with Council's view that flexibility is needed to reward licensed venues that have consistently demonstrated sound and effective alcohol-related management policies and practices.”