Liquor Amendment (24-hour Economy) Bill 2020
23rd September 2020
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (16:03:17): I make a brief contribution to debate on the Liquor Amendment (24-hour Economy) Bill 2020. From the outset I say that I support this bill, which I believe will go a long way towards bringing some element of closure to the long-running debate about the State's 24-hour economy, and in particular the controversial lockout laws, liquor licence renewals and other emerging issues around the sale of alcohol. I also believe that it will go a long way towards reviving our live music and cultural scene, which has been negatively impacted over the past six years by the Government's crackdown on alcohol-fuelled violence, particularly in Sydney and in large regional centres.
I somewhat reluctantly supported the Government in 2014 when former Premier Barry O'Farrell first brought a cognate bill to the House to deal with alcohol-fuelled violence and antisocial behaviour by way of restrictions on alcohol supply, including the lockout laws and mandatory minimum sentencing. We know that crackdown had a very big impact, intended or otherwise, on some businesses and certainly on some lifestyles. Back then I said that it was time to hit the pause button, and I do not move away from that comment. We had to turn off the taps and regroup, take a breath and find a way of dealing with what was a very big problem—a problem that manifested in many injuries and, tragically, deaths of young people. Indeed, at the time it seemed that I was largely on my own—not entirely, but largely—in arguing that, of the two bills, the more concerning was the one relating to mandatory minimum sentencing. Restrictions on alcohol could, in my opinion, be more easily nuanced over time or at an appropriate time and repairs could be made to the principles of separation of powers that were dealt another blow through that bill.
As an aside, I note that only seven members spoke in debate on that very significant piece of legislation—the cognate bill. Two members of the Government spoke—the Premier and the Attorney General at the time, Greg Smith—and there were two speakers from the Opposition and three from the crossbench, being the member for Balmain, the member for Sydney and myself. We had to argue hard to make a contribution to that most important piece of legislation. That was a great shame. But we move on, and the Government is now moving on as well. That is a good thing. However, with regard to alcohol restrictions, in more recent years I have supported the call for those laws to be reviewed. I am pleased that the Government has now done that. It is fair to say that six years after the lockouts were introduced to combat alcohol?fuelled violence, the streets of inner?city Sydney and regional centres such as Newcastle do not resemble what they were, particularly at night. Street violence in Kings Cross and in the CBDs of Sydney and Newcastle has dropped dramatically.
But that has come at the expense of nightlife and, I would say, the somewhat diminished reputations of those vibrant centres where people once headed for a good night out. Six years ago I also said that the sort of cultural problems many communities have with alcohol cannot be solved by restrictions alone or with a big stick. We must also seek to educate and move towards genuine cultural change. It can be a dangerous proposition just to use restrictive practices to head off every problem we have. I think our young people and many in the broader community are heartily sick of being told, "We're doing this for your own good." We needed a big-stick approach six years ago, and we got it. It should have been pared back, in my view, a long time before now to minimise the collateral damage.
The view that we will solve our problems by denying the masses the opportunity to do something does not work in the long term unless reviewed and adjusted as appropriate. I believe that delays to this reform have been to the detriment of our State. We should always be prepared to review measures. If things have improved, there are other things we could be doing to ease the original measures back. I am very confident that this bill will go a long way towards achieving that, particularly in Sydney and Newcastle. The issues in Newcastle, which is an area I obviously know quite well, were well articulated by the member for Newcastle. Newcastle was at the forefront of restrictive practices to address very serious antisocial behaviour. Certainly, the member for Newcastle knows that situation very well.
I briefly address the four key components of the bill. Firstly, I support the bill's intention to establish an integrated system of incentives and sanctions for licensed venues. In particular, I note that the most serious sanctions will be reserved for those breaches involving alcohol and minors, and sanctions against licensed venues will still be publicly available. Secondly, I support the bill's intention to lift the freeze on new licences in the CBD and Kings Cross areas and note that a cumulative impact assessment will now be part of the framework around determining new licence applications. It will provide a degree of certainty for the industry and, while it has attracted criticism from some quarters, I note that the requirement will be reviewed in 12 months.
I have some concerns with schedule 3 to the bill, which seeks to regulate the same?day delivery of alcohol. This sector has grown significantly over the past year, and even more so during the current COVID pandemic. Perhaps that says something about the cultural issues we have with alcohol, which I mentioned earlier. The ease of access to alcohol, particularly amongst young people and minors, has become a significant concern. We cannot make it so easy for a minor to go online and order a heap of grog to be delivered to the door just by ticking a box to say they are over 18. A number of agencies have reported that the explosion in online ordering and home delivery of alcohol has led to a massive spike in the number of minors finding easy access to it, and I am not surprised. It is clearly an area in need of regulation. I accept that the Government is proposing that employees and retailers receive training similar to the existing Responsible Service of Alcohol [RSA] qualifications held by bar staff. I think the Minister perhaps was referring to an RSAD—something for a driver. It will be something targeted for that particular need.
While I accept that that may be a suitable measure, I can foresee delivery people being put at risk in some circumstances. I make the cautionary point that we could be solving one problem and creating another. I certainly hope that is not the case. I do not want to see a young delivery driver put in a situation where he or she is threatened by a group of drunk party?goers who have been refused their delivery of more alcohol at the doorstep. I would prefer to see far more stringent controls at the other end of the transaction. I would think that, in order to place an order for alcohol online, the customer should first have a registered account with that retailer. In setting up that account, proof of identity and age must be required. It might also be required to be produced on delivery of the purchase. To me, that makes far more sense than creating new RSA?type training for those who are merely delivering. I have made that point to the Minister and I am sure that there will be further discussion about it with industry over time, as we see this roll out. I note that the Minister will be reviewing the issue.
The fourth component of the bill, which I do not intend to detail, will streamline processes for licence applications and, in particular, cut red tape for small family?orientated venues. We need a more mature approach to these important matters. We are getting that from the industry, from the community and now from the legislators of this Parliament. That is a very good thing. I commend the Government. I do not want anything I have said to be taken as overly critical because this is a difficult area. I commend the Government, the Minister and his staff and all of the people who have been involved in reviewing this, including the night?time economy inquiry. I look forward to seeing a new approach to dealing with this issue that hopefully does not inflict the collateral damage that we saw with the approach taken six years ago. I know that is not the intention, but we have to be mindful of it. I thank the House.
Dr MARJORIE O'NEILL (Coogee) (16:12:27): I contribute to debate on the Liquor Amendment (24?hour Economy) Bill 2020, which is a vital but well overdue piece of legislation that, with Labor's amendments, will allow the soul to return to Sydney as well as towns and cities across New South Wales. In its current form, the bill does four main things. It consolidates three sanctions schemes under the Liquor Act into one integrated demerit points-based scheme; introduces a new framework to help manage density areas with large concentrations of licensed premises and alcohol?related problems; enhances the regulation of same?day alcohol deliveries in order to minimise the risks of minors or intoxicated people accessing alcohol through these services, and lifts standards for delivery to be comparable to those that apply to shops; and includes various reforms to remove red tape and reduce regulatory overlap, particularly to help support more live music and entertainment at licensed premises. These are all things that Labor supports.
However, the bill falls short. Firstly, it fails to give councils the power to remove conditions from development approvals—a critical inclusion. Without this step, nothing will change. The bill also fails to remove bans on live music or restrictions on mirror balls and dance floors or those that make cover bands compulsory. At the heart of every great cultural city is a thriving, diverse and engaging night?time economy. The culture and leisure elements of city life are a huge reason why people choose to live, work and play in cities and an even larger reason for tourism from interstate and overseas visitors. As we look forward to a hopefully not too distant future where travel is back on the menu, it is our responsibility as legislators to allow our cities and towns to find their personalities again and set them up to take the best advantage of a post-pandemic financial recovery. The eastern suburbs has always been a fertile spot for up and coming musicians—from fantastic small venues like Little Jack Horner that has done an amazing job at creating a live and local soundtrack of up and coming musicians to our summer afternoons, right through to the famous Selina's at the Coogee Bay Hotel.
That iconic live music venue has been a drawing card for over 40 years with headlining acts, including Nirvana, INXS, the Foo Fighters and The Preatures, as well as featuring shows performed by the former Federal member for Kingsford Smith and his garage band, otherwise known as Midnight Oil.I long to see the glory days of live music returning to the eastern suburbs and returning to the streets of towns and cities across this great State.It is our responsibility as legislators to facilitate the business and creative leaders of our great State in taking the lead in creating a vibrant, dynamic, safe and accessible night-time economy once again.
The Government's approach to the night-time economy has long been solely focussed on alcohol. Like every vibrant night-time economy, alcohol and licenced venues play a role but Labor wants a broader discussion about music, entertainment, culture and tourism—all the things that make a city great. This bill includes nothing on the broader opportunities that a thriving night-time economy can bring. In many case studies across the globe we see it as the foundation of so many of our creative industries—from music live performances, comedy, theatre to fashion, art and media, as well as the supply chains and hospitality businesses that deliver on our night-time events and the interlinked public transport options that can get us there and back safely. As the pandemic has pushed even more shopping online, the vitality and viability of our high streets and major shopping precincts are at further risk. Without the shopfronts open and the lights on, many of our city centres and local high streets could become empty, forgotten and even more dangerous places to be at night.
Without a broader scope from this bill, without greater imagination for what our night-time economies could be, too many of our vibrant city areas may not survive the pandemic and could spiral into decline in just months. The bill only represents a solution to an old set of problems: Problems brought about by this Government's lockout laws and its broad and insipidus distaste for fun. The impact of the pandemic lockdown has further threatened night-time businesses and jobs exacerbated by the previous impacts of the lockout laws. After six long years of lockout laws our favourite, iconic venues have only survived through hard work, endless pivoting, jumping through hoops and creative innovation, but we can no longer let them bear this burden alone.
In order to survive and to emerge from this pandemic in the best position to help us out of this serious economic downturn the industry needs regulatory and financial support from members in this place. It is clear from the joint select committee's report on Sydney's night-time economy that each sector within the broader night-time economy is need of financial support. These businesses are drowning in the face of an economic tidal wave and there is no fiscal lifeboat in sight. The role this Government has played in closing down our city is significant and must not be forgotten but by amending the bill the Opposition hopes to begin to rebuild our city as a true, global and culturally vibrant place.
Recently, the Victorian Government announced $28.2 million in specific assistance packages for live music venues, on top of an $87.5 million fund to support a transition to outdoor dining and performance. The New South Wales Government has done nothing in this space, despite the desperate cries from industry. The pre-existing night time regulation in this State, as well as the lack of fiscal support, is hugely impacting jobs figures and the livelihoods of thousands of people across New South Wales. According to a report by Deloitte Access Economics in 2019, the economic dividend could be up to $16 billion a year just by reorientating our policies to promote a thriving night-time culture and economy, based on modelling on Sydney alone.
Regrettably, New South Wales is also currently regarded as one of the most restricted jurisdictions in the OECD when it comes to performance. In a recent Music NSW survey, 85 per cent of venues suggested they may close in the next six months to nine months without further regulatory and fiscal support. Locally we have already seen these results play out. Overlooking Coogee beach and Coogee Oval there was once a venue called Old Dave's Soul. That little hidden gem featured a diverse range of live music every night of the week, and provided an amazing opportunity for local bands and early career musicians to play live and receive that all important direct audience feedback. Unfortunately, that fantastic local bar did not last through the age of this Government's crackdown on live music; it was forced to shut down in 2018.
The bill does nothing to remove or even lighten the restrictions on live music, nor does it address the restrictions on mirror balls and dance floors. Labor will be moving amendments to remove the current bans an restrictions on live music. The omission of this element from the Government's legislation is damning and shows how out-of-touch are those opposite with the music industry and the formula needed to resurrect Sydney's nightlife. Labor loves live music—always has, always will. I am hopeful that this change, along with further recommendations from the short inquiry in the other place, will provide a road map forward to bringing the soul back to our city. I acknowledge and thank the Hon. John Graham, MLC, for his important work with key stakeholders to ensure that their concerns were heard and addressed. I commend the bill to the House.
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