19/07/2005 - 22:00

Back on the drink, with good cause

19/07/2005 - 22:00


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I am glad to see the debate about liquor regulation start up again.

I am glad to see the debate about liquor regulation start up again.

While much of the news in the past week or so has been about Sunday trading, that issue obscures the much bigger argument, which is about liquor regulation best reflecting the lifestyle of people in this state.

There are many historical reasons why liquor service has ended up with such regulation – some of it dating back to more than a century ago – that has left us with laws that appear ridiculously strict and, at times, anti-competitive.

Interestingly, in a debate about the skills shortage that we are planning to publish, the dire consequences of poor hospitality service were raised as an issue for the state. Tourists, most notably those who may be prospective employees from elsewhere, often get their first impression of Western Australia through the hospitality sector.

That impression is not always positive.

While I would agree whole-heartedly that bad service is a dreadful start – it is not just a lack of skilled service people that creates the first casualty in the battle for these visitors’ hearts and minds.

Often they can’t find a place open that will serve them at all.

There are many restrictions placed in the way of those who’d like a drink on the weekend.

I think that we have great hotels and pubs that do a fine job, particularly if you like being part of a large crowd. But where are our small taverns and wine bars, and why can’t you buy a beer at a café, without having to eat a meal?

The fact is that gaining a licence for these types of premises is

often cost-prohibitive, because incumbent operators use the legal system to make it too expensive.

Who can afford to open a wine bar for 40 people if a licence costs $150,000 in legal fees?

Like most regulated monopolies, our system has become one that can preserve

the status quo and, at times,

suits anti-competitive players. Imagine if the print media were regulated similarly and The West Australian could legally block the owners of WA Business News from trading. Not that I am suggesting such a big company would use its deep pockets in such a way, of course.

Why should liquor be any different?

A vice it may be (some say the media is worse), but it is one that is deeply embedded in our society and is a part of our lifestyle.

I would also argue that anti-social behaviour associated

with alcohol consumption is changing, becoming more moderate as our society has become more sophisticated. This is even the case at the Australia Day Sky Show, where hundreds of thousands act in a socially responsible way, while their moderation is overwhelmed by the focus on a few misfits.

It is time for the individual to take responsibility for their actions, consumers and providers. Car licences don’t cost $150,000 yet the threat of their removal still keeps most of us in check.

I’d like to see a much more relaxed regulation regime, where a liquor licence is relatively easy to obtain but the compliance is strictly enforced.

And while we are at it, I question why it is illegal to consume alcohol in public areas, such as parks. Clearly, this law is flouted by everyone. Why not make anti-social behaviour illegal and put the onus back on the troublemakers?

Time for school

While we are on the subject of big ideas, some time ago there was talk of a School of Resources being started up to take advantage of Western Australia’s location as a minerals and hydrocarbons hub.

This great idea’s time is now.

We have the booming growth, perhaps even the famed super-cycle, to fund this concept and there is a need like never before for expertise in our fields.

A world-class school of this nature would help solidify WA’s place in the resources landscape.

Red card for ID card

Finally, could someone please put that furphy of an idea – the Australian ID card – out of its misery once and for all.

Whether it is tax evasion, Medicare fraud or terrorists, identity cards don’t stop people getting around the system.

Worldwide, the trade in fake documents thrives as never before. Some might even suggest that the more we create documents and databases, the easier it is for those intent on trouble to get away with it.


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