Are things that bad in NSW?  Are the further changes to the NSW Liquor Act going too far?

Are things that bad in NSW? Are the further changes to the NSW Liquor Act going too far?

The 29 October 2014 edition of the newsletter published by the Victorian Commission for Gambling & Liquor Regulation, mentions increased penalties for service of alcohol to minors. This newsletter can be found at:

The newsletter has prompted these thoughts – it is interesting to compare the regulatory approach of the NSW and Victorian governments to the issue of minors obtaining alcohol. Also it is interesting to generally compare the regulatory approaches to their respective liquor industries, by the NSW and Victorian governments.

In Victoria there are recently increased maximum penalties in the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998, for the service of alcohol to minors, now being a fine of 120 penalty units or $17,713.20 (s.119). In addition there has been in place for some time, a “demerits system” which can result in increased periods of suspension for the licence, but not its automatic cancellation (s.86E).

In NSW we have the similar offence in the Liquor Act 2007 which can result in a maximum fine of 100 penalty units or $11,000.00 and/or imprisonment for up to 12 months (s.117). In addition, the service of alcohol to a minor is a “prescribed offence” for the purposes of the 3 Strikes Regime (Part 9A).

But there’s more. Now the NSW Parliament is considering a further amendment to the Liquor Act 2007 by which a second and separately operating 3 strikes regime is to be introduced for the offence involving the service of alcohol to a minor. This amendment is hidden away in the Liquor Legislation Amendment (Statutory Review) Bill 2014.

Under this new regime, for a first strike, the licensee will receive a “show cause” notice from the Secretary, by which the licensee must demonstrate why the licence should not be suspended for 28 days. A second strike results in the automatic suspension of the licence, with no exceptions. A third strike results in the automatic cancellation, again with no exceptions. And all of this is to run concurrently to the existing 3 Strikes Regime, which already covers the offences involving the service of alcohol to minors (s.114B(j)).

Apart from “double jeopardy”, this aspect of the Bill is bad legislation in my view. But unfortunately experience shows that the Bill will probably pass through the Legislative Council, in the next couple of days. It already rocketed through the Legislative Assembly on 23 October 2014, with bipartisan support.

The Bill comes from the Government Response to the Liquor Legislation Review, tabled in Parliament in August. There are some parts of the Bill which are welcome, but this new 3 strikes regime amendment should be removed.

So why does the NSW government have to be so “heavy fisted” with the liquor industry? Has the service of alcohol to minors been a significant issue in NSW? After all, on the OLGR 3 Strikes Register there is a total of 130 venues listed with strikes recorded. Of those 130 venues with strikes, only 12 involve the service of alcohol to minors. There are also 15 potential types of strikes that can be recorded under the definition of a prescribed offence contained in s.144B. Therefore it would appear that minors obtaining alcohol is not an issue that warrants such a drastic regulatory response as contained in the Bill.

This change also comes on top of renewed and new licence freeze areas, the imposition of 1:30am lockouts and the 3:00am cease service of alcohol, for the key entertainment precincts in Sydney. The Victorian, Queensland and South Australian governments seem not to be as heavy fisted with their liquor industries, so why does NSW have to be different?

Bruce Bulford

31 October 2014

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