Government Weakens Regulation of Problem Venues

The NSW Liberal Government, with the support of Labor, has pushed through changes that will weaken the regulation of problem venues in NSW.

The Liquor Amendment (Reviews) Bill 2017 amends the 3 Strikes Scheme, designed to target licensed venues that repeatedly commit serious offences in breach of their liquor licence.

Member for Newtown and NSW Greens spokesperson on Night-time Culture and Economy Jenny Leong MP criticised the amendments to the scheme and asked why blanket lockout laws remain in place, while measures to target problem venues are being weakened.

Ms JENNY LEONG ( Newtown ) ( 17:57 ): I speak on behalf of The Greens on the Liquor Amendment (Reviews) Bill 2017, which amends the Liquor Act 2007 to implement a range of measures that were announced following the Callinan review of the Sydney central business district and Kings Cross lockouts and to implement changes to the Three Strikes Disciplinary Scheme that targets venues that are in breach of their liquor licence obligations. The Greens are not supportive of this bill. We need to look at what is happening here in more detail. It is true that we are seeing in some parts of this bill the implementation of the recommendations of the Callinan review and that some of those recommendations have already been changed in regulation. This bill is required, in part, to come before this Chamber so that we can make a decision on the recommendations in relation to what was undertaken by the Callinan review.

Earlier today, in a briefing with the Minister's office, I put a simple question. I asked where in the Callinan review was it said that there was a need to change the three‑strikes scheme in New South Wales? I can look for myself because the Callinan report is public, but it appears that there is no recommendation from the Callinan review in relation to recommendations around changing the Three Strikes Disciplinary Scheme. While this bill might look as though it is simply implementing the recommendations of the Callinan report, in actual fact it goes further and actually makes changes to the Three Strikes Disciplinary Scheme.

Let us have a look at that. The regulations changed in relation to some of the recommendations in the review. The definition of small bars in the regulations was changed to increase the capacity from 60 people to 100. The time was extended so that we can party on. The doors of pubs will stay open later—closing time has changed from 1.30 a.m. to 2.00 a.m. and the times at which drinks can be served has been extended from 3.00 a.m. to 3.30 a.m. Obviously, these were minimal changes. The Greens opposed the lockouts from the beginning because we saw it as a blanket punishment on members of the community when we needed targeted responses that were based on evidence. That does not sound very controversial.

Unfortunately, we have heard that the Labor Party is supportive of this change, which will weaken the regulation of problem venues. On the one hand, we have had a media imposition of top-down lockouts of individuals, to stop them being able to go out and party all night in the safe, vibrant city of Sydney. On the other hand—surprise, surprise!—the big publicans and the big venue owners will get a hand up from this Government. The regulations on them will be weakened. This is yet another example of a Government that is willing to crack down on the community while, at the same time, weakening the regulations that target problem venues.

Apparently there has been some advice from Justice Callinan in relation to this review regarding the changes to the disciplinary scheme. My colleague in the upper House Justin Field asked a question today about the advice that was received by the Minister from Callinan in relation to the changes to the Three Strikes Disciplinary Scheme. So far, this is what is on the record: The Government sought advice from Justice Callinan in relation to the three strikes scheme, and the Government received advice from him in relation to that scheme. We do not know what that advice was. When The Greens asked what the advice was, it was not released or made public. As has already been said by Opposition members, Sean Nicholls pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald out that, while this information has not been released publically or made available to decision-makers in this place, it has been released to certain publicans and, it seems, to the Australian Hotels Association. I question whether the Government is implementing the recommendations of the Callinan review or finding a way to loosen the impact of the regulations on problem venues.

Let us look at this in a little more detail. Basically, this will see a change in the Three Strikes Disciplinary Scheme that began in 2012. It was designed to target licensed venues that repeatedly commit serious offences. In a detailed submission to the review of the three-strikes scheme in 2016—this takes us on another tangent, but let us go there—the NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance, said, "The current scheme is falling short of its objectives." The House might also be interested to note that this submission was in relation to a statutory review that was required under the Liquor Act as part of the introduction of the Three Strikes Disciplinary Scheme. According to section 144K—the review part of the Liquor Act 2017—that review should be undertaken as soon as possible after the period of four years from the commencement of this part, and a report of the outcome of the review was to be tabled in each House of Parliament within 12 months of the end of the four years.

I will put that into context. The bill came into effect on 1 January 2012 so, on a rough calculation, we should have seen the report tabled on 1 January 2017. We have not seen that report. There has been one report from Justice Callinan recommending some changes. Some of those recommendations have been taken on board and the regulations have been changed. This bill changes some of them. But there has been some secret advice—it is sitting somewhere—that recommends something about the Three Strikes Disciplinary Scheme, but we have not seen it. The advice could have been that the Government should toughen the regulation for venues, but the Government is weakening it; we do not know. In addition, the Government has brought forward the amending legislation when, in fact, by 1 January this year a statutory review of the legislation should have been tabled. Today we are debating an amendment bill without having seen that review.

Something is going on; something is happening. We do not have to look very hard at the history of politics in New South Wales to know that there has been a long connection between this Government and the alcohol lobby and special interests groups that represent pubs, casinos, gaming and booze in this State. That is why The Greens oppose this legislation. It is quite possible that the Minister, who I note is in the Chamber, has received advice that there should be changes. The Minister is waving a Post-it note at me; I am not sure whether Justice Callinan wrote something to him on a Post-it note. Apparently there has been advice that recommends changes to the three-strikes scheme. If that advice exists, why did Justice Callinan not include it in his report? If the Government has that advice, why does the Government not release it to the public? It would be very useful to see that advice before we debate this legislation.

People have made submissions with respect to the statutory review. If members go to the website they can see that people have made submissions but there is no detail about who made the submissions and what happened after that. The statutory review, which was due to be tabled on 1 January 2017, has not been tabled. I conclude by saying that The Greens have always opposed the lockouts that were imposed because the Government could have targeted solutions to address alcohol violence. In the Newtown electorate we have started an initiative that brings together the Police Association of NSW, the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre, the Liquor Accord, local businesses and community members to talk about how to address the safety and vibrancy of our night life. That has been an absolute success.

It has resulted in those groups and community members coming together and addressing serious issues, such as training pub security guards in the vibe of the area and being able to support and share things. It has resulted in people being welcomed at the train station to show the creative nature of the area, and live music happening on the streets. Those things make a difference to a community. When we look at the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research statistics we see that crime rates in Newtown have not increased. The local response has been impressive. We need local solutions; we should not be lifting regulations on problematic venues and making it harder for people to go out and have a good time in a safe and vibrant Sydney.

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