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Liquor Licensing Laws: An Update

Liquor Licensing Laws: An Update

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 12/2007 by Lenny Roth

Changes to licensing laws in NSW since 1995
Since 1995, there have been a number of significant changes to liquor licensing laws in NSW. These include the harm minimisation and enforcement reforms enacted in 1996, the introduction of nightclub licences in the same year, the introduction of ‘dine or drink’ authorities for restaurants in 1998, and the establishment of compulsory responsible service of alcohol training for the liquor industry in 2003. In addition, in 2004, the Government implemented the first stage of the National Competition Policy reforms, which replaced the ‘needs’ based objection for hotel licences and off-licences (retail) with a social impact assessment process and made changes to licence fees.

Reforms to licensing laws in other States
All other States have also enacted major licensing reforms in the last decade, largely in response to National competition policy reviews. Most other States have replaced the ‘needs’ test for determining licence applications with a public interest test and they have relaxed restrictions on restaurants serving liquor without a meal. Western Australia has also recently introduced a new category of licence for small bars. Several States have also enacted new provisions directed at harm minimisation. Queensland is currently finalising a further review of its liquor licensing laws to ensure that they reflect recent community attitudes and the growth of the tourism and hospitality industry.

Interstate comparison of liquor licensing
In some other States there are different types of licence available and there are less restrictions on the sale of liquor without meals. In all other States licence fees for hotel and nightclub licences are much cheaper than in NSW. Other differences include the court-based licensing system in NSW compared to the administrative based system in most other States, and the social impact assessment process in NSW compared to public interest tests in most other States. There are also some differences in trading hours.

Proposed reforms to licensing laws in NSW
The NSW Government is set to introduce major reforms, which would implement the next stage of the national competition policy reforms and make changes arising out of the 2003 NSW Summit on Alcohol Abuse. The reforms include moving away from a court-based to an administrative-based licensing system, a new licence fee system and an extension of the social impact assessment process to other types of licence.

Clover Moore MP has also recently introduced a bill to give restaurants more flexibility to serve alcohol without a meal and to create a new small bar licence. The bill has received support from some stakeholders but it has been opposed by others, most notably the Australian Hotels Association. The Premier has indicated opposition to the bill on the basis that it does not include a social impact assessment. The Opposition would support the bill if small bars were limited to a maximum number of 50 patrons instead of 120.