Smooth passage through the liquor licensing process eludes many applicants, despite the Liquor Commission’s clear requirements.
THE liquor licensing approvals process may have been intended to encourage a more cosmopolitan Perth, but the number of knock-backs from the Liquor Commission continues to frustrate those in the hospitality game.
The objectives of the liquor control act make Commissioner Barry Sargeant’s modus operandi clear – regulating the sale and consumption of liquor, minimising alcohol related harm or ill-health, and catering for the liquor requirements of consumers by properly developing the liquor industry.
When it comes to satisfying these requirements, however, it seems many licence applicants are falling short.
Applications rejected last year include that for a tavern licence at a venue to be known as Louvre on Mounts Bay Road, and extended trading hours licences for small inner-city bar Helvetica and the Settlers Tavern in Margaret River.
Also making news late last year was the rejection of a tavern licence for Northbridge’s upgraded cultural centre flagship eatery The Latin, run by Nic Trimboli, which was commissioned by the East Perth Redevelopment Authority.
The decision was made, according to Mr Sargeant, on the basis that another ‘tavern’ in the area was not in the public interest, a notion that was supported by the intervention of the police commissioner, who said the addition of the premises to the area may increase ill-health or harm to the public.
It’s not bad news for all applicants, however.
The State Theatre Centre had its ‘special facility licence’ approved despite intervention from the police commissioner, while Claremont will soon add another small bar – Cheeky Sparrow – to its list of licensed venues.
Liquor stores have also been on the approvals agenda, with Bunbury’s WA Cleanskin Cellars’ licence approved in December, while Toodyay’s Victoria Hotel and The Stable Liquor Store were granted new licences after renovations and a shift in premises, respectively.
The town’s IGA was not so lucky, and was refused a license for its IGA Plus Liquor proposal.
Two of the largest venues on Murray Street in Perth –Tiger Lil’s and The Generous Squire – were granted extensions to their trading hours.
Those who fail to convince the commission of the validity of their application may find the reasoning difficult to comprehend, particularly the weighting given to certain criterion.
The Latin, for example, which set out to “focus on quality, choice and promoting wine and food appreciation” was denied a licence on the basis there was no need for its proposed services and ‘ill-health and harm may be caused’, while two bars in close proximity to one another (Tiger Lil’s and The Generous Squire) received a trading hours extension.
According to Lavan Legal’s Dan Mossenson, the critical aspects of an application are getting the local council on side, complying with the licensing authority formalities, addressing all aspects of the public interest assessment and other policies, and proving the need or requirement for the licence.
More specifically, a review of the commissioner’s decisions suggests an applicant’s assertions about what they plan to do with the venue are insufficient ‘evidence’ of the need for a licence.
It was all well and good for The Latin to claim it was going to serve a mature wine connoisseur and truffle-loving clientele, but where was the evidence from those people to say they needed the venue?
Steve Scaffidi recently increased his stake in the hospitality sector, having added Sentinel Bar and Grill – licensed as a tavern – to his list of inner-city ventures, which includes Milligan Street’s Bar One.
Mr Scaffidi said when he applied for Sentinel’s tavern licence he provided extensive detail in the public interest assessment section of the application, including a well-supported petition from his existing clientele at Bar One.
The application was successful despite intervention from the police commissioner and the executive director of public health.
What role the support petition played is impossible to know, but the link between petitions and licence approvals seems to be self-evident – The Generous Squire, Sentinel, Cheeky Sparrow and The Stable Liquor Store all submitted customer support petitions in their applications.
On the other hand, the rejection of applications from Helvetica, The Latin and Settler’s Tavern all skipped the petition route and consequently were left with the explanation from the liquor commission that their applications were based on assertions, not fact.