The manager of a Byron Bay backpackers hostel has been convicted and fined $7,000 for illegally serving alcohol to people not staying or eating at the establishment.
The magistrate yesterday described the offence as one of ‘unadulterated greed’.
Christopher David Schneider, from the Aquarius Backpackers in Lawson Street, was also placed on an 18-month good-behaviour bond over the breaches to liquor service regulations when he faced Ballina Local Court.
Magistrate David Heilpern yesterday also ordered Mr Schneider pay prosecutor’s costs of $660.
Mr Heilpern told the court he rejected the defendant’s submission not to convict him or impose a penalty as the need for a general deterrence was ‘too great, and the aggravating factors too many’.
The court was told that Mr Schneider had been issued with two penalty notices for the offences of $1,100 each but he declined to pay them and elected instead to have the court deal with it. He had pleaded guilty.
Mr Heilpern said the maximum fine for the offence was $11,000 or 12 months’ jail.
‘Despite this being the defendant’s first offence, and him being of good character, the offences are serious and go to the heart of the distinction of a restaurant and a pub,’ he said.
‘Systems must be put in place to avoid this type of offence. Greed and avarice must be curbed by appropriate penalties.
‘This is a regulatory offence similar to a breach of work and safety laws, or environmental offences, where there is a real issue of community and public amenity.’
Mr Heilpern said that in his sentencing, he wanted ‘to ensure that the message is sent home to those who run similar businesses that the courts will not stand idly by and see restaurants and motels turned into pubs’.
He said ‘clearly the business makes more money if it can expand its customer base beyond restaurant patrons and motel guests.
‘The victims are the public, who expect that pubs will be pubs, and restaurants will serve drinks with meals or to accommodation patrons only.’
Mr Heilpern said there was ‘significant public concern about the improper service of alcohol, alcohol related violence in Byron Bay and breaches of voluntary accords.
‘One can only imagine that the situation would become much worse if every accommodation place or restaurant in the township of Byron Bay became a defacto pub.’
Mr Schneider was charged by the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, which had recently used undercover inspectors to expose the breaches.
After repeated inspections recently, the hostel told media it was prepared to close its bar indefinitely.
In July, hostel owner Dr Harry Chua denied the business had broken any licensing laws, telling media the decision to stop serving alcohol was voluntary.
Dr Chua told APN Media at the time that staff had been placed under ‘substantial stress’ by a number of inspections and ‘onerous’ reporting requirements.
The hostel is licensed to serve alcohol to guests staying at the premises, but non-guests must buy food in order to be served alcohol.
Meanwhile, the community group campaigning to reduce alcohol-related violence in Byron Bay is asking people to speak out about their experiences.
Last Drinks at 12 spokesman Mick O’Regan said the voice of the community ‘needs to be heard above the clamour of vested interests and people only interested in partying irrespective of the consequences’.
Mr O’Regan told APN Media that ‘the direct experiences of locals and visitors is what lies behind the shocking statistics of alcohol-related violence in this community’.
Mr O’Regan said a comprehensive account of the impact of such violence was ‘the best way to for real change to occur’.
‘People need the opportunity to tell their story and to be heard,’ he said.
A recent public meeting in the town heard from emergency workers and medical staff confronted regularly by the fall out of the alcohol-fuelled violence.
Many locals blamed the fact that five nightclubs in the CBD are open till the early hours of the morning, which promotes a culture of excessive drinking, but the town’s Liquor Accord say venues are doing their bit to reduce the problem and if venues closed earlier the problem would shift to the streets.