The decision by state regulators to slap sanctions on the notorious Byron Bay nightclub La La Land highlights more problems than answers, according to a community group fighting to reduce alcohol-fuelled violence in the town.
The group also says the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) needs to make the welfare of the community a key concern and that its warning that there’s a risk of punishment for further breaches sends the wrong message to the alcohol industry.
Spokesman for the Last Drinks at 12 Coalition, Mick O’Regan, told Echonetdaily the ‘slap on the wrist’ to the nightclub recently for breaching the town’s liquor accord exposed the OLGR as an ‘ineffective organisation’.
The sanctions on the nightclub came after undercover agents found the venue in breach of five of the 10 voluntary guidelines agreed to by the Byron Bay Liquor Accord, only less than a fortnight after signing the agreement.
The OLGR warned that if found in breach again, the nightclub’s licensee could be fined up to $11,000 or face a 12-month jail term. It also made the regulations mandatory rather than voluntary for the nighclub as a result.
Mr O’Regan said the case highlighted the fact that voluntary agreements with accord members did not work.
He said some in the liquor industry were ready to bend and break the rules as the nature of voluntary agreements made them vulnerable to not being enforced.
He said the multiple breaches of the voluntary accord measures by La La Land, committed only weeks after the agreement was signed, ‘produced little more than a tap-on-the-wrist penalty, and even that took months to produce. How can this be reasonably construed as an effective deterrent?’
‘OLGR needs to make the welfare of the community a key concern. The unequivocal evidence of the harms caused by alcohol-related violence shows long lasting and serious damage.
‘A “love-tap” from OLGR is an inadequate response to a serious issue,’ Mr O’Regan said.
Comments by Echonetdaily readers have included calls for tougher penalties, including jail terms for repeat offenders. One reader asked why the community has had to ‘wait so long for OLGR to make these ineffective conditions compulsory for La La Land and not all the other five late traders?’
‘Will we be subjected with the same charade by OLGR when the other five breach their current voluntary conditions?’ one reader asked.
Another said the ‘ineffective’ sanctions would not stop ‘the sea of grog violence and failed RSA in Byron’.
Local resident Geoff Bensley said the nightclub had ‘disgraced the Byron Bay Liquor Accord and our community’.
Mr Bensley suggested that with each offence, the nightclub ‘should lose an hour of early morning trading time, that would make them wake up and listen’.
OLGR director of compliance Paul Newson said La La Land’s failure to abide by the Byron Bay Liquor Accord trial conditions as agreed in writing ‘demonstrated a lack of commitment to contribute to reducing the risk of alcohol-related harm in Byron Bay’.
On Saturday night April 27, La La Land was found to be letting in punters after the agreed 1.30am lockout time, selling alcoholic energy drinks after 2am, serving more than four drinks to a single patron after midnight, serving a ‘shot’ over ice with a slice of lemon and failing to provide security guard patrols as agreed.
Less than a month later, on May 18, a barman was observed advising a punter how to circumvent the ‘no shot’ restrictions.
Effective from today, Friday 6 September, La La Land must ensure:
• a 1:30am lockout on all nights;
• a four-drink limit per person after midnight;
• no energy drinks with alcohol are sold after 2am;
• no shots or ‘shooters’ are sold at any time.