Former Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham has urged an alcohol forum in Sydney to establish a public defender’s office under the liquor law so communities can fight any unwanted bars, nightclubs and bottle shops.
Ms Barham’s call follows revelations that liquor-licence applicants often misled authorities about community and social impacts.
The hearing has also been told that communities find it extremely difficult to challenge licence proposals.
The Greens MLC’s backing of calls by an alliance of medical and research groups for such an office comes as community angst over alcohol-fuelled violence has increased in Byron Bay and other towns across NSW.
Ms Barham spoke yesterday at the NSW/ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) and National Local Government Drug and Alcohol Advisory Committee Community Forum at NSW Parliament, which is looking into community involvement in liquor-licensing decisions.
Byron Youth Service manager Di Mahoney and local Last Drinks at 12 member Tony Brown also addressed the forum in support of wider community involvement in such decisions, instead of just the liquor-licence applicants and government agencies being involved.
The calls follow reports that the number of active liquor licences in NSW jumped 13 per cent between 2008 and 2011.
Councils across the state have complained that the community is locked out of decision making and does not have the resources to fight applications from cashed-up companies.
Ms Barham told the ABC that while active communities such as Byron Bay had some success in their lobbying against unwanted liquor outlets, others needed help to take on the powerful liquor industry.
She said a community defender’s office could help by preparing submissions to present evidence-based concerns as to why they opposed liquor licences or wanted tougher restrictions on outlets.
The Sydney Morning Herald this week previewed a report, released yesterday at the forum, which found that community impact statements lodged by liquor-licence applicants were often misleading, while spot checks by the regulator revealed many pubs and hotels did not tell communities, giving them no chance to object.
NAAPA, which includes hospitals, the NSW Police Association and Australian Medical Association, says the defender’s office should be funded through the introduction of annual licence fees for pubs and clubs.
The alliance said the community defender’s office would notify communities of a new licence application, help prepare affidavits and gather data needed to challenge a new licence under complex rules.
Michael Thorn, chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, told the SMH that NSW communities are demanding a say in liquor-licensing decisions but are ‘increasingly frustrated at being locked out by a process that is unfairly weighted in favour of the alcohol industry’.
The SMH reported also that a recent hearing on a controversial plan for a new restaurant on Manly wharf was told by a concerned local that ‘more big bars bring more drinking, more violence, more noise and more community disruption’.
Update to story: Previously Echonetdaily included in the story that, ‘In contrast, current Byron mayor Simon Richardson, a member of the same Greens party branch, recently rejected calls by the Last Drinks at 12 campaign for tougher restrictions on the town’s booming nightclub and bar scene.’
Cr Richardosn told Echonetdaily the statement, ‘is misleading, if not totally untrue.’
He said, ‘I am absolutely open to “tougher restrictions”, and my suggestions to the Last Drinks group about the possibility of a 2am last drinks cut-off time was agreed to by them as being acceptable. It is a shame that attempting to create drama and division is considered acceptable when honest, respectful, consensus focused responses to our challenges are required and sought after by our community. The similarities between myself and the Last Drinks group far outweigh our only original difference of a preferred time for when last drinks should be called. Now, with agreement by Last Drinks that their 12am time is not a set in stone position and they are open to a later time, we have no difference at all.’