Changes to the Liquor Act – Will there be Boutique Bars?

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The liquor laws of New South Wales (NSW) were changed in 2008 which affected the existing liquor licensees and registered clubs. The Liquor Act 2007 (the Act) and the Liquor Regulation 2008 (the Regulation) provided for changes to trading entitlements and a more streamlined approach towards dealing with licensing proposals. The type of liquor licence previously held was changed and the most existing trading entitlements were either preserved or enhanced.The changes came into effect from 1 July 2008 onwards.

Changes as per the Act

The changes provide for a variety of entertainment choices. The changes are aimed at over all development of related industries such as live music, entertainment, tourism and hospitality industry. The Act takes into account community expectations and thus intends to minimise the harm associated with misuse and abuse of alcohol, encourages responsible attitudes and practices towards the promotion, sale, supply, service and consumption of alcohol ensuring that the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol contributes to and does not detract from the amenity of community life.

The Act does not mandatorily require licensees to display various signs prescribing responsible behaviour. Any licensee can choose to voluntarily display any of these signs if they consider them to be of value in helping to ensure responsible service and consumption of alcohol. However, the Act takes a strict stand against supply of alcohol to minors and prohibits promotional and advertisements techniques for increasing consumption of liquor, games, challenges or activities that involve alcohol consumption or alcohol as a prize.

The Act requires a Community Impact Statement (CIS) for any application for a packaged liquor licence. The CIS process is simple and cost effective – while ensuring that key stakeholders such as police, residents and local councils are aware of a liquor licence proposal and can discuss that with the applicant.

Boutique Bars

The changes introduced in the concept of boutique bars state that small bars with small seating arrangements are now able to obtain a licence to serve alcohol without having to provide food. A bed and breakfast accommodation which provides temporary accommodation to not more than 8 adults can also make an application for obtaining licence.

Presently, all restaurants with a dine-or-drink facility will automatically become an on-premises licence (restaurant) and will be endorsed with a ‘primary service authorisation’ as per Section 24(3) of the Act. This allows them to sell or supply liquor for consumption on the premises otherwise than with, or ancillary to, a meal. A vendor who intends to sell liquor over the internet or telephone will need a packaged liquor licence.

The concept of boutique bars met with criticism from different corners. Hotel owners were of the view that opening of boutique bars will create an uneven playing ground between the hotels and such smaller bars. Their advent has been seen by many including the members of Government, as being catalyst of change in NSW due to a lower level of surveillance, a lower level of supervision and a lower level of compliance. The proliferation of boutique bars was held responsible for the increase in alcohol-related violence.

The Liquor Amendment (Small Bars) Bill 2013 creates a new type of liquor licence specifically for small bars with 60 patrons or less. The Bill received assent as on 19 March 2013 and as per its provisions, smaller bars will not be able to sell take away liquor and cannot have gaming machines installed in its premises.

These further changes have also been criticised for going against the spirit of the changes introduced in 2008.

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