Liquor And Registered Clubs Legislation Amendment (Minors' Entertainment) Bill

About this Item
SpeakersFace Mr Jack
BusinessBill, First Reading, Second Reading


Bill introduced and read a first time.
Second Reading

Mr FACE (Charlestown - Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [11.00]: I move:
      That this bill be now read a second time.

The aim of the bill is to increase the alcohol-free entertainment and recreational opportunities available to young people under 18 years of age. The proposed amendment will facilitate the holding of alcohol-free entertainment in hotels for persons under 18 years of age; allow access to club premises for junior members of small registered clubs; and broaden the range of clubs that can allow junior membership. The bill also clarifies the existing offence of the sale and supply of liquor to young people under 18 years of age. That issue is of particular importance because it is at the heart of the under-age drinking problem, that is, the way in which minors obtain alcohol.

Recently the honourable member for Cronulla drew the attention of the House to the anti-social behaviour being displayed by young people drinking in Dunningham Park, Cronulla. That is symptomatic of the problem that occurs when young people have nowhere to go at night, or even during the day. That problem is compounded by the consumption of alcohol. As many honourable members would be aware, for most of my life I have been involved in youth-related activities. For some years I was the chairman of the police citizens
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youth club movement, and it has always been obvious to me and to others who work with young people that the lack of suitable entertainment and recreational options must be addressed. For various reasons many young people do not want to belong to structured organisations, and not many alternatives are available to them. In fact, the first thing young people generally say is, "There is nothing for us to do."

Some might say that they are not looking for things to do, but it is a fact of life that young people who will soon be adults find suitable entertainment difficult to find. Indeed, the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues identified the lack of places for young people to find entertainment. One of the priorities for the Government's action is the committee's 1995 report on youth violence in New South Wales. I commend that committee and the Hon. Ann Symonds, who has a strong commitment to that issue and played a major role in the committee's inquiry. In its very useful report the committee made a specific recommendation in respect to alcohol-free events in hotels, and that recommendation is mirrored by the Government's proposed amendment.

The Government gave a commitment to introduce the proposals in the bill when it took office last year. The Labor Party had identified many of the problems associated with young people being unable to find suitable entertainment and the plight of juniors wanting to belong to registered clubs. These amendments will sensibly increase the range of alcohol-free entertainment and, most importantly, the recreational options for young people. I will now address the proposals in detail. The first proposal concerns alcohol-free entertainment in hotels. Before honourable members consider the proposals contained in the bill in this regard, it is appropriate to take a moment to consider the current situation. Both registered clubs and hotels are already able to stage alcohol-free functions for young people under the age of 18, but unlike registered clubs hotels must cease all liquor trading when these events are conducted.

A stringent requirement was introduced into the Liquor Act in 1990. That requirement was a brainchild of the former Premier, Mr Greiner, and resulted from a conversation he had with his daughter about the lack of entertainment for young people. Mr Greiner then introduced the provision into Parliament and made a great hue and cry about it. However, as with so many other things the Government did at that time, it did not bother to think the provision out. During the debate on that provision on 12 September 1990 I gave my support to the spirit of the legislation. However, I also raised the concerns that any liquor trading requirement imposed on hotels would severely limit the appeal of the proposal to a small section of hotels, and would not achieve the aim of providing entertainment for young people.

The former Premier took part in the debate and said that the provision was one small step forward. As have I said, I do not think Mr Greiner resolved the problem that had been raised by his daughter. It was clayton's-type legislation, because it was pointed out to him that unless the amendments moved by the then Opposition were included, the legislation would fall in a heap. History has proved that to be so. Unfortunately for young people and hoteliers my prediction on that occasion proved to be accurate. Over the past five years only 24 hotels have staged this type of alcohol-free entertainment for young people under 18 years of age. That is 1 per cent of the hotels in New South Wales. The amendment introduced by Mr Greiner was a fairly poor attempt to overcome the problem. In 1990 the proposal was a new and untried initiative for hotels.

I agree with the former Premier that the amendment was probably a bold step, but it turned out to be a clayton's amendment. At the time little had been done to promote responsible alcohol serving practices in licensed and registered club premises. No doubt many people in the community did not agree with the proposal to allow minors into hotels for alcohol-free events, even if those events were properly supervised. The responsible service of alcohol has come a long way, not only as a result of government initiatives but as a result of the industry taking a more responsible role. In this day and age those who are irresponsible are in the minority, and they are paying the appropriate penalty if they step out of line. The harm minimisation legislation that proceeded through this Parliament last week will go a long way towards overcoming the problems that still exist.

The liquor and club industries strongly support the Carr Government's joint agency approach to educating licensees, club secretaries and their bar staff about responsible serving practices. To the credit of the community, it has shown that alcohol-free entertainment can be successful. One event staged at a club on the central coast in late 1995 had good community support, and feedback obtained from the young people who attended the event was positive. I was interested to learn that one of the main responses from young women who attended the event was that they felt safe. That says a great deal.

A great deal of that fell into line with the concerns of the Government and with the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the death of young Anna Wood, who attended a club when she was under age. I do not want to experience what the Premier experienced when he spoke with the parents and friends of Anna Wood. The death of Anna devastated them, and it certainly had an emotional impact on me. Her death emphasised to me the lack of facilities for young people under 18 years of age. The scheme proposed in the bill will remove the existing difficulties encountered by hoteliers who want to make their premises available for alcohol-free entertainment for people under the
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age of 18. That will encourage hoteliers to conduct this type of entertainment for young people in the same way as clubs. I believe both sides of the Parliament will agree that that is a commonsense approach.

Briefly, the scheme will allow a hotelier to apply to the New South Wales Licensing Court for an annual functions authority. The police will have an opportunity to object to the grant of the authority, and a specific complaint provision is proposed so that steps can be taken if it is found that an authority is not being exercised in the interests of young people and the community. That is a very important safeguard. This new application process will overcome the difficulties that have been experienced by hoteliers. If hoteliers are to be encouraged to hold alcohol-free entertainment it is essential that the application process be streamlined. The new hotel function authority will designate a separate and distinct part of the hotel premises that may be used as an alcohol-free function area for entertaining young people under the age of 18 years. That is the specific amendment that I proposed to the 1990 legislation.

It is envisaged that a lower age limit will be provided for by the regulations, and this will be subject to consultation with the liquor industry. At the moment the Liquor Administration Board usually imposes a standard condition of alcohol-free entertainment in hotels which sets 15 years of age as the minimum age limit. To prevent minors mixing with other patrons the bill provides that the function area will be separate from the rest of the hotel. Access to function areas will also be considered an essential part of the approval. While most functions will be held for those in the 15 to 17 year age group, lower ages may be targeted in some areas, for example tourism. In other words, minors will need to be able to gain access to function areas without having to go through other parts of the hotel. The alcohol-free events will still be subject to strict conditions.

It is not the Government's intention to throw open the doors of hotels so that minors can walk in or that a functions authority will give minors casual access to hotel function areas. On the contrary, the alcohol-free functions will be held on specified dates and hoteliers will be required to keep a register of those dates and advise local police prior to each event. That will ensure that police patrols are aware when an event is to take place on hotel premises. The Government intends to strengthen the conditions that are currently imposed on the holding of such functions and to place the main conditions in both the Liquor Act and the Registered Clubs Act. That will send a clear message to the hotel and club industries about the requirements that must be met when conducting alcohol-free entertainment. Whether that entertainment is held in a club or hotel, the conditions will also ensure a consistent approach to controls over minors attending alcohol-free functions. Until now those controls have been imposed on a case-by-case basis.

I should like to highlight those controls to assure honourable members that minors attending alcohol-free functions in hotels will do so in supervised environments. When granting a hotel functions authority the Licensing Court will be required to impose conditions on the authority concerning the level of adult supervision required for each event, the steps that licensees must take to ensure that minors attending or departing from functions do not disturb the quiet and good order of the surrounding neighbourhood, the steps that licensees must take to enable the safe conduct of minors in the vicinity of the licensed premises, and, most importantly, any other conditions that the court deems it appropriate to impose. Those controls will give the court a wide discretion to impose additional conditions.

The functions authority will also be subject to an automatic condition that requires tobacco vending machines to be removed from function areas and their access areas when alcohol-free events take place. That was highlighted in the time leading up to the drafting of this legislation because young people under 18 years of age cannot purchase tobacco-related products. In addition to these controls a set of standard conditions will be prescribed in the regulations. Those conditions will be drafted in consultation with the liquor and club industries. In other words, a regulatory consultation period will ensure that the legislation works.

I have already spoken about the minimum age limit for alcohol-free events being prescribed in the regulations. It is envisaged that the regulations will also provide a range of controls to prevent alcohol being brought to the events and to prevent those who appear to be affected by liquor from entering the events. The controls I have described will ensure that minors attending alcohol-free functions are supervised and that their safety in the vicinity of hotels and clubs that hold such functions is taken into consideration.

The second and third proposals concern junior membership of registered clubs. For a long period of time that has been a vexed problem that successive governments have failed to address. The Government is at last doing something about it. Most of the 1,500 registered clubs in New South Wales provide excellent entertainment and recreational facilities for their communities, particularly those in rural and isolated parts of the State. Many registered clubs have excellent sporting facilities that can be used by club members. As the Act stands, only clubs that have been established for athletic purposes, golf clubs or bowling clubs are able to have junior members. That has caused problems for clubs and young people, as I will illustrate shortly.

The bill contains two separate proposed amendments in relation to junior membership of registered clubs. The first amendment will improve the situation for small registered clubs that do not have an unrestricted area where junior members are
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allowed. Many clubs have small premises, perhaps one room with a bar and poker machine area. Mr Acting-Speaker, as the member for Bathurst, a wide and rambling electorate, you would be aware of that problem. This bill will rectify the problem. If sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure that juniors cannot gain access to liquor and gaming, they should be allowed into the premises to take part in prize-giving ceremonies or other activities associated with their sport.

The following example illustrates a typical problem that can arise. I ask honourable members to imagine a small bowling club that is running a junior bowling tournament and halfway through the tournament it starts to rain. If the club did not have a non-restricted area where minors are allowed, junior members would not be able to enter the club and take shelter from the rain. That may be an extreme case but situations such as that arise in small suburban areas and country towns. Often the only recreation facilities in small towns are bowling or golf clubs. Some larger clubs with no sporting facilities and no responsibilities to the community are putting small clubs out of business.

Recently the mayor of a reasonably sized country town drove hundreds of kilometres to see me because a local services club sells liquor and food but gives nothing back to the community, and the local golf and bowling clubs are now insolvent. People now have to drive 73 kilometres to play lawn bowls or golf. That is ludicrous. It is about time the Registered Clubs Association got its act together and, instead of criticising me, tried to encourage people not to do that sort of thing, because it will happen more often in the future. To some extent the bill will overcome that problem. When small clubs go out of business recreational facilities are lost.

The bill introduces an approved scheme that will allow small registered clubs to apply to the Licensing Court for approval to allow junior members to enter premises to take part in sport or associated prize-giving ceremonies. Before granting an approval of that kind the court will need to be satisfied that because of the size of the club premises, it is impractical for an area of the club to be designated as a non-restricted area. Small clubs in small country towns do not have the resources to bring the premises up to modern standards or to extend their premises. The court will also impose certain conditions on the approval so that controls apply to junior members whenever they are on club premises. Those controls include the establishment of a special register for junior members to sign when they enter the club, the level of adult supervision that is necessary at those times, the steps that the club must take to ensure that junior members do not gain access to liquor or gaming machines while they are on club premises, and the disabling of tobacco vending machines whenever junior members are on club premises.

These controls are similar to those imposed on minors who are on club and hotel premises for the purpose of enjoying alcohol-free entertainment. In other words, it will be easy for small clubs, usually with a volunteer secretary and directors, to abide by an identical set of rules. The second amendment in the bill relates to the types of registered clubs that can offer junior membership. That has been a vexed problem for the Royal New South Wales Bowling Association for some time. Junior members have long been connected with golf clubs, but there has been an increase in junior membership of bowling clubs. Some time ago I was at North Sydney with the honourable member for North Shore, who represented the former Government, to commission junior bowls. That was a good move. It was a credit to the junior males and females that they participated together, rather than taking positions that were miles apart. Frankly, it took the young people to show the old people some sanity.

The legislation currently allows only clubs that are primarily established for athletic purposes, bowling clubs or golf clubs to admit junior members. Many clubs, such as Returned Services Leagues clubs, ex-services clubs, community clubs and clubs established by ethnic groups do not fall into these categories. Some clubs have their own youth clubs, such as the RSL clubs, which have long had youth clubs attached to them. But young people in those youth clubs do not have the same rights as club members. Once again, that situation is not without its problems. Perhaps the most effective way of describing the problems that can occur in this regard is to provide honourable members with the following scenario. I ask honourable members to imagine an ex-services club in a country town that has excellent bowling greens, and young people in the town have expressed an interest in using those facilities. The club wants to encourage young people to enter the sport, so it sets up a youth club which those under 18 years of age can join.

The club has its own internal bowling club that is anxious to allow the those under 18 years of age into the youth club to hold tournaments, competing with other young people under the age of 18 in the local bowling club. That is where the problem arises. While those under 18 year of age in the ex-services youth club can affiliate with the Royal New South Wales Bowling Association so that they can take part in the bowling tournament, because they are under 18 they cannot join the ex-services club and cannot represent the club in the bowling tournament. That is an example of young people taking part in a recreation, and such situations have occurred in every part of New South Wales. However, it has been a real problem to country towns, especially as lawn bowls has become part of the sports curriculum in schools. That is ridiculous and is undoubtedly frustrating for both the club and the young people involved. That would not be an isolated example.

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The proposal in the bill will preserve the current requirement that junior membership is for the purposes of athletics or sporting activities organised by a registered club. At the same time it will increase the types of registered clubs that can offer junior membership to those under 18 years of age. The age of junior members will be determined by the rules of the individual clubs. A few directors have claimed that their clubs will be taken over by the kids. That is not the case. Clubs will be able to determine, as they have always been able to do under club rules, what they will allow. The Government will not interfere in that process. I understand that clubs that can currently allow junior membership usually set the minimum age for junior members at 14 or 15 years. The aim of junior membership is to allow a young person to take part in sports. Therefore, the age at which that person is physically able to compete in a particular sport is a determining factor. It is therefore appropriate that the minimum age criteria should continue to be provided for in the rules of individual clubs.

It is worth noting that as with any club member, a young person would need to be proposed for membership by an adult, and a club's board of directors would consider each application for junior membership on its merits. Junior members will also be subject to the same disciplinary requirements as full members. The junior members of clubs are, of course, under 18 years of age. That means that they continue to be governed by the existing legislative provisions that prohibit those under 18 year of age from gaining access to liquor and gaming whilst they are on club premises. The amendments in the bill will allow young people to better enjoy the sporting facilities offered by registered clubs. That will provide health benefits as well as increasing recreational options for young people, particularly those in rural and isolated areas of the State to which I have already referred.

The fourth and final proposal in the bill clarifies the offence of the sale and supply of liquor to minors. Honourable members will no doubt be aware that on many occasions I have addressed this House on the problems associated with under-age drinking. Second-party sales - the purchase by adults of liquor that is then supplied to minors - is the most insidious aspect of under-age drinking. It is commonly known as secondary purchase or secondary service. Unfortunately, this activity is well established within our community. It is not new; it has always existed under the surface. But the practice of second-party sales has increased recently as a result of intensified policing of licensed and registered club premises and the vigilance of liquor licensees and clubs in keeping under-age drinkers off their premises. That has led to an upturn in second-party sales, which was previously hidden under the carpet or in the closet. The responsible attitude of both hotels and clubs to ensure that under-age people are not served has driven the practice into the streets.

The Government has made the second-party sales problem a priority area for action, and action has already been taken to significantly increase the maximum penalty for the offence of selling and supplying liquor to minors. That action was part of the harm minimisation legislation which passed through the Parliament last week. The bill clarifies that it is an offence to sell or supply liquor to a minor, regardless of where the sale or supply takes place. This clarification is necessary because many people may believe that the provisions of the Liquor Act apply only to activities that take place on licensed premises. Of course, that is not the case. It is a clear warning to those who want to play around and who think the law applies only to the premises. The law applies everywhere. The proposed amendment to section 114 of the Liquor Act highlights the fact that to sell or supply liquor to a person under 18 years of age is an offence, whether it takes place on licensed premises, in registered clubs, in the streets nearby, or in a park. The existing defence for parents and guardians of young people will, of course, not be affected by this amendment.

The proposals contained in the bill have been the subject of government consultation with the Liquor Industry Consultative Council, the Club Industry Advisory Council and the New South Wales committee on under-age drinking. That Committee, which I set up when I became Minister, is doing an excellent job. Certain amendments in the bill have been sought for some time by the liquor and club industries. As I said in my initial remarks, this legislation has been sought for many years, but until now the time has not been right for change. The bill provides a balanced approach. It allows minors to have supervised access to hotel and club premises, while ensuring that appropriate controls are in place so that they do not gain access to liquor and gaming. The Government's aim is to increase the alcohol-free entertainment and sporting options for young people, while at the same time ensuring that they are safe and have healthy options. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Slack-Smith.