Last month, the New South Wales’ Premier Barry O’Farrell announced a suite of measures to tackle alcohol and drug fuelled violence following the recent tragic deaths of teenagers Daniel Christie and Thomas Kelly in Sydney that received wide spread attention in the media.

The New South Wales’ Parliament passed the Liquor Amendment Bill 2014 (NSW)1 to amend the State’s existing liquor laws by, among other things, introducing:2

  1. a 1.30 am lockout and 3 am last drinks for Kings Cross to Darling Harbour, The Rocks to Haymarket and Darlinghurst;
  2. a new state-wide 10 pm closing times for all bottle shops and liquor stores; and
  3. a precinct wide freeze on new liquor licences for pubs and clubs in the Sydney CBD.

In addition to these amendments, the Premier also announced the following tougher penalties for crimes where drugs or alcohol are contributing factors:3

  1. new eight year mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted under new one punch laws where the offender is intoxicated by drugs/alcohol;
  2. the removal of voluntary intoxication by drugs or alcohol as a mitigating factor when courts determine sentences;
  3. increasing the maximum sentence, from two years to 25 years, for those who illegally supply and possess steroids;
  4. increasing the maximum penalties by two years where drugs and alcohol are aggravating factors for the offence;
  5. increased on-the-spot fines to $1,100 for continued intoxicated and disorderly behavior and disobeying a police move-on order; and
  6. the police will have the power to impose an immediate CBD precinct ban, for up to 48 hours, for trouble-makers.

The issue of alcohol and drug fuelled violence is not confined to New South Wales and, indeed, the Queensland Government is facing similar pressure from the community for stricter laws to be imposed against violent offenders. 

There has been discussion within industry on whether Queensland Government will follow New South Wales’ lead and will amend the Queensland’s Liquor Act 1992 in accordance with the comprehensive package put forward by Premier O’Farrell. A brief comparison of the licensing laws, in both New South Wales and Queensland, are set out in the table below:

Click here to view table.

As can be seen from the comparison table, Queensland already has in place:

  • a prohibition on bottle shops trading past 10 pm;
  • 3 am “lock-outs”; and
  • the moratorium, since 2009, to prevent further applications to allow for late night trading unless the premises are located in a late night trading precinct.

A noticeable difference between the two States where New South Wales is ahead of Queensland is that there is ability for Liquor Accords in New South Wales to be incorporated. 

Incorporation provides the Liquor Accord with a separate legal entity from its individual members. The ability to incorporate removes unnecessary red tape for the industry as it provides the particular Liquor Accord with the ability to enter into contracts, open bank accounts and obtain insurance, which makes the day to day operation of the Liquor Accord simpler for its members.

In Queensland, like New South Wales, the media reports that alcohol-related violence, noise and nuisance are caused by late night liquor trading4. Indeed, a restriction on late-night trading was part of the response adopted over five years ago in Newcastle CBD to tackle assaults and anti-social behaviour in that city.

In Queensland nearly five years ago, the previous Bligh Government announced a moratorium on all liquor applications for an extended trading hours’ approval between 12 am and 5 am. The 12 months moratorium took effect immediately pending the outcome of the Law Justice and Safety Committee inquiry into alcohol related violence (Committee). The Committee published its report in March 2010 and the previous Government responded to that report with, among other things, the establishment of a trial period of the Drink Safe Precincts in Fortitude Valley, Surfers Paradise and Townsville. The moratorium was extended in 2010 to 2013 by the Bligh Government in order to assess the effectiveness of the two year trials of the Drink Safe Precincts.5

Until recent times, the administration of the licensing laws in Queensland was seen by the industry as being bogged down in red tape. In September 2012, the Newman LNP Government appointed an Expert Panel of industry, community and Government representatives to review the State’s liquor and gaming laws as part of the Government’s election promise to reduce the red tape burden within the tourism industry.6

In September 2013, the Expert Panel provided an interim report into Queensland’s licensing laws and recommended to the Attorney General, the Honourable Jarrod Bleijie MP, to:7

  1. let the moratorium on extended trading hours applications, imposed by the previous Bligh Government in September 2009, expire to permit, on application, late trading after midnight;
  2. scrap the 3 am lockout; and
  3. wind back trading hours of licensed venues to 3 am State wide for those premises which currently trade after midnight.

In the addition to the recommendations of the Expert Panel noted above, Queensland Police have called for the “lock-out”, currently at 3 am, to be rolled back to 1 am.8

In mid-December 2013, the Queensland Government extended the State’s moratorium on applications for late night trading, by another three months, to provide the Government more time to review and consider the recommendations put forward by the Expert Panel.9

The initial proposal to wind back trading hours to 3 am in Queensland, as suggested by the Expert Panel coupled with the announcement by the New South Wales Government, has sparked community debate. Premier Campbell Newman has invited Queenslanders, particularly young Queenslanders, who could be affected by any future amendments to the Liquor Act 1992, to provide comments on how Queensland should address this issue, particularly whether we should:

  1. have tougher penalties for intoxicated patrons; or
  2. have earlier closing times for licensed venues.10

Unlike New South Wales’ approach, it seems as though in Queensland it is either one option or the other. Premier Campbell Newman personally favours tougher penalties for intoxicated patrons as he believes winding back trading hours state-wide would punish everyone for the “sins of a relatively few bad apples”.11 The Premier and Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie have stated that they are seeking feedback from the public and are working on a comprehensive package of reforms to address alcohol and drug fuelled violence that will be announced in March.

The Attorney-General has stated that there is no silver bullet solution to this issue and that the Government wanted to consult widely before making any announcements. It is expected that the announcement may also include the fate of the drink safe precinct trial, which officially finished in November 2012 and has continued whilst under evaluation.

Recent press on alcohol and drug fuelled violence will make it politically tougher for the Queensland Government to relax the current restrictions, as recommended by the Expert Panel and Queensland’s licensees. We now wait with anticipation to see what the Government will ultimately implement.