On 23 November 2010, the Queensland Parliament passed the Liquor and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 (the Amending Act). The Amending Act implements extensive changes to the Liquor Act 1992 (QLD) (Liquor Act) and in particular the process for assessing new liquor licence applications. This article provides a brief overview of the key changes to the Liquor Act and how they may affect the tourism industry.
The Amending Act is in response to the Law, Justice and Safety Committee’s inquiry and report on alcohol-related violence in Queensland1 and the Queensland Government’s response2 which was tabled in Parliament on 30 August 2010. The Amending Act implements the Government’s response.
In his Second Reading speech, the Hon. PJ Lawlor, Minister for Tourism and Fair Trading stated that the Bill provides a new purpose for regulating the liquor industry, and areas surrounding licensed premises, in a way compatible with three outcomes:3
- the minimisation of harm, and the potential harm, from alcohol abuse, misuse and associated violence
- the minimisation of adverse impacts on the health and safety of members of the public
- the minimisation of the adverse impacts on the amenity of the community.
Harm minimisation is the cornerstone of the new amendments. Significantly, the Liquor Act’s Objects have been amended to introduce a new section 3(a) which provides that the main purposes of the Liquor Act now are:
‘(a) to regulate the liquor industry, and areas in the vicinity of licensed premises, in a way compatible with-
(i) minimising harm, and the potential for harm, from alcohol abuse and misuse and associated violence; and
Examples of harm-
- adverse effects on a person’s health
- personal injury
- property damage
(ii) minimising adverse effects on the health or safety of members of the public; and
(iii) minimising adverse effects on the amenity of the community…’4
What constitutes ‘harm’ or ‘potential for harm’ is undefined, but the Liquor Act cites adverse effects on personal health, personal injury and property damage as examples. The inclusion of the term ‘potential for harm’ is likely to open the door to objectors and appeals.
For instance, the ‘Australian Alcohol Guidelines: Health Risks and Benefits’ provide that no more than two standard drinks on any day are recommended to reduce the risks of harm from alcohol.5 It is unclear how widely the new objects have been interpreted in liquor licensing decisions or by the courts. As the new objects are also reflected in section 119 of the Liquor Act, the grounds for public objections to a liquor licence application have increased considerably.6
Importantly, a new definition of “amenity” has been included in section 4 of the Liquor Act:
‘amenity, of a community or locality, means—
(a) the atmosphere, ambience, character and pleasantness of the community or locality; and
(b) the comfort or enjoyment derived from the community or locality by persons who live in, work in or visit the community or locality.’7
The government has clearly opted for a ‘soft’ definition of amenity, which introduces new concepts and grey areas in the liquor licensing regime that provides a greater scope for objections to be lodged under section 119 of the Liquor Act, to liquor licence applications.
Queensland Liquor and Gaming Commission
Probably the most significant change is the establishment of the Queensland Liquor and Gaming Commission (QLGC), which expands the role of the existing Queensland Gaming Commission (QGC). The new QLGC will be required to decide licensing applications of significant community impact under a new section 142AO.8
Decisions of significant community impact include, but are not limited to:
- applications for a commercial hotel licence
- subsidiary on-premises licence where the principal activity of the business is entertainment (capturing nightclubs and cabarets amongst other licenses)
- a decision whether to grant or vary an extended hours approval
- community club licence.9
Commercial Special Facility Licences are notably excluded from section 142AO. However, it is likely that such licences could still be captured, particularly where it involved any of the matters prescribed in section 142A0.
The consequence of taking the decision making powers away from the Chief Executive and giving them to the QLGC is very likely to lead to delays in decision making for new licence applications. This is because the Chief Executive must still consider all decisions under s142AO and then prepare a recommendation to the QLGC, who make the ultimate decision.10 It adds yet another layer of decision making to the licensing assessment process. This is likely to increase costs and cause delays in the liquor application process, which will not be well received by Queensland’s struggling tourism industry.
According to the 2008-2009 Annual Report, the current QGC met only 11 times during that financial year.11 With the expanded workload agenda expected to befall on the new QLGC as a result of these amendments to the Liquor Act, delays of months should be anticipated to the decision of new liquor licence applications involving a significant community interest. However, the amendments do provide for the QLGC to delegate its decision making powers.12
Ministerial Objection Power
A new section 119A provides a power for the Minister to object to the grant of liquor licence applications involving significant community impact.13 The Minister is also permitted to request the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal review a decision of the QLGC, where the Minister has objected.14
Restricted Trading Hours for Bottle Shops
The current standard trading hours for bottle shops has also been amended to between 10am and 10pm. Licensees may apply to extend the trading hours from 9am through to 12 midnight, where the applicant can justify the extended trading hours with a demonstrated community need.15
A number of other changes to the Liquor Act include:
- introducing prescribed standard conditions on licenses16
- establishing three pilot Drink Safe Precincts (DSP) at Fortitude Valley, Surfers Paradise and Townsville17
- introducing civil banning orders which prohibit a respondent who committed an act of violence in a licensed venue in a DSP from entering a DSP following a Magistrates order, for a maximum 12 month period,18 and
- legislating the already announced extension of the Moratorium prohibiting applications for extended trading hours outside prescribed precincts until December 2013.19
We will keep readers up-to-date on when this comes into effect. Whilst the majority of the amendments will take effect on assent of the Amending Act, some provisions will not take effect until a date yet to be fixed by the Government.20