(Debate, 23 October 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Liquor Legislation Amendment (Statutory Review) Bill 2014 makes a number of changes to the Liquor Act 2007 in response to the recent review. Having a vibrant late-night economy is essential to Sydney's liveability and its status as a global city. Residents, particularly young people, and visitors need places to go for a drink and dance, to see live music and shows, and to socialise late at night. But we must also ensure safety for patrons and protect amenity for residents. Provisions in the Liquor Act are central to getting this balance right.
Some changes proposed in this bill are routine or address anomalies in the legislation. Other changes will help improve the responsible service of alcohol, such as escalating penalties for serving minors, guidelines to prevent intoxication and powers to impose late trading conditions like glass bans during the two hours before midnight. As a member whose electorate includes the highest number of licensed premises and has been the location of high levels of alcohol-related violence and antisocial behaviour, I support these measures. Kings Cross, the central business district and Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, in my electorate have been the subject of successive changes to the Act since 2007 to address violence on the streets and on premises, including liquor freezes, restrictions on drink purchases after midnight, identification scanning and banning orders and, of course, changes earlier this year packaged with the 1.30 a.m. lockouts.
Police and some residents in Kings Cross tell me there are some improvements; however, businesses report a significant and damaging downturn in patronage, and young people complain that inner-city night life is dying. Because there have been so many changes it will be difficult to determine which provisions have made an impact and which have merely harmed business and nightlife. I am disappointed that this bill did not take the opportunity to provide more flexibility for well-run and safe venues under the scheme. Of particular concern has been the 1.30 a.m. lockout. While lockouts are an important tool for penalising unsafe and poorly managed venues, the evidence that they reduce violence in hotspots is not strong.
Studies elsewhere have favoured earlier cessation of alcohol service as the key driver in reducing violence over lockouts; the lockout is reported to be having the biggest impact on the vibrancy of Sydney's night-time scene. The Government needs to work with well-run venues, especially those that provide entertainment late at night, as alternatives to binge drinking, to establish a more sophisticated response to alcohol-related violence. When people dance, or watch a band or show they do not drink as much. A New Democracy Citizens' Jury report supported exemptions for venues with a proven record of good behaviour, no incidents and lower risks to public safety, and I believe there is wider support for such a policy.
The Government should provide exemptions during important tourist events, such as the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, for well-run safe venues so that the city can provide a great experience for visitors who will otherwise be disappointed by the restrictions. I call on the Government to work with Mardi Gras and Oxford Street venues towards this outcome. The bill introduces a new requirement for the primary purpose of an on-premises licence to be available at all times that liquor is served. Many small bars in the inner city—I mean bars with a capacity of up to 120 patrons—have on-premises licences because they serve specialty food. They often close the kitchen before they close the bar, allowing the chef and staff to clean up while the bar continues serving liquor. If kitchen staff have to clean up after closure, the extra cost would make these bars unviable.
This is a problem for all restaurants, including fine dining. Often customers remain seated after their plates have been cleared and continue to socialise over a few drinks while restaurant staff clear the kitchen. It is well known that it is difficult to make a profit from food, and liquor services usually subsidise the primary food purpose. One aim of the Liquor Act 2007 was to diversify the types of liquor venues available, in response to Clover Moore's small bars campaign. We do not want a return to the days when Sydney had nothing but beer barns and loud nightclubs. I understand the concerns about preventing restaurants morphing into beer barns. However, this could be addressed through a grace period such as one or two hours during which liquor can be served after the primary purpose concludes, as recommended in the report on the statutory review of the Liquor Act 2007 by former Commissioner of the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing Michael Foggo.
The Act must retain the flexibility to ensure that boutique restaurants and bars remain economically viable, and I call on the Government to withdraw the proposed changes to section 24 (3). I support changes in the bill that will allow venues in the Kings Cross and Sydney CBD precincts to apply for an exemption from identification scanning requirements for the whole or part of the premises where the Minister is satisfied that it is unlikely to increase alcohol-related violence or antisocial behaviour. The Kings Cross Liquor Accord, which supports ID scanners in venues, is concerned that smaller venues that close early but after midnight are therefore subject to the scanning requirements, which the accord states is onerous given the risks.
The accord also states that while bottle shops attached to licensed venues in Kings Cross have to close at 10.00 p.m., many cannot let customers in after 9.00 p.m. without scanning their IDs, putting them at a disadvantage to other bottle shops. I hope the new provisions will help address these problems. I am concerned that ID scanning is still required on week nights when risks of violence are very low and most patrons are locals dining or having a quiet drink. The impost on venues and locals is great. I have been contacted by constituents in their 50s who do not drive and cannot afford new identification and who are now unable to drink at their local after 9.00 p.m. The accord reports that venues say they are increasingly turning back patrons with expired or unacceptable ID. There needs to be more flexibility in what forms of ID are acceptable.
I support changes to allow community organisations to sell liquor at fundraising events with restrictions. This will make it easier for non-profits to raise funds and engage with their communities. Our relationship with alcohol is complex and our legislation must reflect that. I hope that the Government will bring forward the review of the lockout laws to next year so that we can ensure that Sydney has a vibrant nightlife scene and safer streets.