The truth is many people like to drink and many, particularly young people, like to go out late. This applies to every state and the ACT is no different. However, the latest move to stop late-night trading in the nation's capital will destroy much more of Canberra than just its nightlife. The new liquor white paper, released in April, proposes three options for venues' last drinks:
- service ends at 3am with current fees;
- 4am licence with 300 per cent increase in fees; or
- a 5am licence with up to 500 per cent increase in fees.
A 4am licence could potentially cost an extraordinary $100,000 and a 5am licence $163,000 – a huge jump from the current rate of $27,238 a year. Licences here are among the most expensive in Australia already and the new proposals are lockouts by stealth.
The impact of the current fees has already taken its toll on late-night venues. In 2010, there were 17 night clubs but now there are only seven – that's a 59 per cent reduction in the licence type that trades the latest.
What is happening to the thriving nightlife culture many young people enjoy? What about the live music and entertainment we love? And what will happen to the hundreds of jobs across bars and clubs?
It will be destroyed and who will benefit in the end, if not the government; is it the proposed casino?
The government also suggests this liquor reform will curb alcohol-fuelled violence in the ACT but this ignores that it has been in decline since the introduction of changes in 2010. Research demonstrates that Canberra's licensed hospitality venues, particularly community clubs, are among the safest.
ACIL Allen Consulting commissioned a review of liquor licensing laws in 2014, which found that on average, there are just three or four alcohol-related assaults that occur at a licensed premise each week. That's four out of 680 licensed premises, which means the vast majority see none at all. The burden of the proposed legislation and its accompanying fees is simply not fair because the vast majority of venues have little or no violence at all.
To put this in perspective, Sydney's Star Casino has an average of 1.5 assaults every single week and Crown Casino in Melbourne has at least two assaults a week.
In one week these two casinos account for the same number of assaults as we see across our entire ACT hospitality industry. And the Canberra Casino could, like in other jurisdictions, be exempt from these proposed laws.
Furthermore, NSW has about 16,000 liquor licences with levies around $20 million. The ACT has just 680 liquor licences yet the Government imposes levies of more than $3 million.
So we're already taxed three times the amount of NSW even though we have significantly fewer assaults. Civic has never been, nor ever will be, Kings Cross.
The coward punches of recent months are horrific and appalling but they won't change as a result of trading-hour restrictions. A change in this behaviour requires a concerted community approach aiming to instil cultural change.
In the last six years, the ACT government has collected roughly $18 million in liquor fees from the hospitality sector. They don't need to take more money; they need to put it to better use.
We should invest in more after-hours transport and increased legal powers for licensees to deal with "troublesome" patrons.
Instead of taking money from the community and ruining Canberra's vitality, we should create a public campaign and education in schools. We need to target this abhorrent behaviour before it even begins.
The Barr government announced close to $9 million to boost tourism for the ACT but the proposed new fees for late-night venues makes this feel like they are stealing from Peter to pay Paul. Why spend millions on a city while also stripping it of its nightlife culture, vibrancy and appeal? Who wants to come to a silent city with its lights out?
Gwyn Rees is chief executive of ClubsACT
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