Monday, April 14, 2014

Risk-based Liquor Licensing Fee Scheme a 'Cash Grab'

Greetings readers,

The details of the long anticipated Risk-based licence fee scheme were released by the NSW Government and the OLGR last Friday the 11th of April 2014. The Scheme dictates that every holder of a perpetual liquor licence will be required to pay an annual risk-based licence fee. We hold the view that the scheme is unfair, unnecessary and has the potential to discriminate against hotels and venues by virtue of their location, trading hours and patron capacity.

According to the OLGR, the scheme is designed to provide venues with a financial incentive to adopt and maintain safe, low-risk practices, with a renewed focus on the Responsible Service of Alcohol, in return for a lower annual licence fee.  Additionally, "the scheme introduces contemporary best practice in liquor regulation into NSW and aligns with existing practices in Victoria, Queensland and the ACT". 

All sounds great in theory doesn't it? However, the Government's attempts to justify the scheme fly in the face of their own statistics which clearly show that alcohol-related violence within licensed venues has dropped dramatically over the past two years. Aside from the lock-outs and alcohol sale cessation times, venues now have extra security, RSA marshals, sophisticated CCTV systems, incident registers and multiple inspections by law enforcement and regulatory bodies. Apparently, that wasn't enough to appease the anti-alcohol coalition, so now owners and operators are faced with the prospect of massive licence fee increases up to $24,000 per year.  It's also interesting to note that 12 months ago, the NSW Government weren't the slightest bit interested in aligning their liquor regulation practices with Victoria, Queensland or the ACT. Funny how things change, especially when you can generate massive funds through a so-called "risk based" licence fee scheme.

Take for example a venue within the Sydney CBD precinct with an unblemished compliance record that trades after 1.30pm, and has a capacity of over 120 persons. At present, a venue in that position would be hit with a standard $500 per year for their licence. Under the new scheme, if the venue trades after 1.30am, they are automatically hit with additional $5000 fee for no other reason than they have been authorised (under their existing licence) to trade til 3am. Now, let's imagine that in a large venue (150-300 people), one patron becomes intoxicated and is removed from the hotel by security personnel. Whilst being removed, the OLGR or Police identify that the person is apparently intoxicated and breach the licensee with 'Licensee permit intoxication'. Remember, this is a pub with an unblemished compliance history. The affect that this incident would have on the venue is enormous. Firstly, the compliance history loading indicates an additional fee of $3,000 on top of the $5,500 fee already imposed. That's $8,500. But it doesn't stop there. Then, if we add loading for the venue's patron capacity and location, another $7,000 is added to the fees. That's a total of $15,500. Again, the example we are using is that of a venue with a prior unblemished compliance record. Mr Premier or Mr Souris, please explain how the imposition of $15,000 in 'risk-based' licence fees can be viewed as anything more than a blatant cash-grab.  If the government are trying to put pubs/bars/nightclubs and other venues out of business, the new 'risk-based' licence fee scheme will certainly assist them to achieve their goal.                 

See below for a link to an article in The Shout online magazine today regarding the new scheme.

The OLGR calculator can be found here;

David Sylvester
Principal Lawyer

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