17/01/2014 - 15:11

Liquor law review doubts

17/01/2014 - 15:11

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An independent committee may have taken more than a year to review the Liquor Control Act and recommended 141 changes, but industry participants are skeptical over whether it will herald any business benefits.

Liquor law review doubts
BROKER FOR CHANGE: John Atkins says he had business’s best interests in mind when recommending changes to the Liquor Control Act. Photo: Attila Csaszar

An independent committee may have taken more than a year to review the Liquor Control Act and recommended 141 changes, but industry participants are sceptical over whether it will herald any business benefits.

In handing the final report to Racing and Gaming Minister Terry Waldron last week, committee chair John Atkins said hospitality businesses had been carefully considered during the more than year-long review.

But few positive comments have emerged from the industry, with many criticising the committee’s failure to address the current regulatory burdens.

In particular, bar owners have long been complaining about the lengthy liquor licence application, with many stating it has made them reconsider the viability of their venues.

Recent decisions throw light on just how long some applicants have had to wait for their application to be approved.

In the most glaring example, owners of Northbridge’s Ezra Pound bar have had to wait more than a year before receiving the green light for their second small bar, Old Faithful.

Liquor licensing specialist and special counsel at Lavan Legal, Jessica Patterson, told Business News the delays were detrimental to a would-be bar owner’s business case, especially because applicants were required to prove they had a site secured for the proposed venue before submitting an application.

“If they don’t own the land (an applicant) may be paying some form of rental for the landlord to keep the premises open … and that can prove very costly,” Ms Patterson said.

She said the application process had become bogged down with regulation since the Liquor Control Act was last reviewed in 2007, prompting legislative changes in 2008.

Among the 141 recommendations the committee has addressed concerns over the lengthy delays and suggested the implementation of set timeframes by which the director of liquor licensing would have to abide, as well as a review of the application process.

It has also suggested implementing a ‘code of practice’ to which applicants can refer in lodging parts of an application.

“But I’m not sure how that’s going to be achieved,” Ms Patterson said.

“There are no specifics in the report or examples of what the code of practice should contain.

“(The report) suggests a slightly less regulated process for some applicants, but depending on (how suggestions are implemented) it may or may not make a great deal of difference.”

Ms Patterson also said the committee had failed to propose and adequate process for people to lodge statements in support of applications.

As it stands, she said, applications were treated with an expectation that they would be subject to objections.

Other industry players told Business News recommendations such as increasing Liquor Commission staff numbers and implementing timeframes were unlikely to resolve current problems.

Some recommendations may actually increase the burden on operators, such a proposal that larger venues be required to complete an additional community impact statement with applications.

It took The Publican Group more than a year to get a licence for its Public House venue on Adelaide Terrace, which director John Ahearn said was the result of an arduous, costly and restrictive process.

“It’s restricting and you have that time delay in the back of your mind, which curtails you as an operator looking at future options and more spaces,” he said.

The Publican Group also owns and operates The Aviary, The George, The Byrneleigh and Wolf Lane in Perth, and 11 venues in Melbourne.

Mr Ahearn said the application process in Victoria was faster and cheaper, which fostered innovation in the industry.

“Change needs to be made because the systems that are in place in Perth are not in conjunction with other parts of Australia,” he said. 

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