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Byron Shire
May 11, 2021

Public defender call over liquor bids

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MLC Jan Barham questions Byron Youth Service workers at the recent parliamentary inquiry in Byron Bay looking at ways to reduce youth alcohol abuse. Photo Eve Jeffrey
MLC Jan Barham questions Byron Youth Service workers at the recent parliamentary inquiry in Byron Bay looking at ways to reduce youth alcohol abuse. Photo Eve Jeffrey

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.’



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  1. In many parts of NSW this is a very significant local problem severely affecting many people. Although Newcastle reduced alcohol related violence by 37% by slightly reducing opening hours for liquor outlets, authorities refuse to implement these reforms more widely. Instead authorities support proposals ‘which seem like a good idea’ rather than strategies which have been evaluated rigorously and found to be very effective. One of the major problems is that there is no level playing field when it comes to alcohol licenses. The drinks industry wins almost every battle. It’s the same story whichever party forms government in NSW. We ned fewer outlets, shorter opening times and less liberal conditions. The idea of a public defenders’ office would help to balance the interests of the community and the interests of the drinks industry. It’s time.

  2. There needs to be greater onus/ duty of care placed on problem venues.

    In Victoria Enforceable Undertakings have worked well, with licensees providing detailed monthly reports to the Regulator providing details of police attendances, complaints, anti social behavior, as well as innovative preventive measures and education of management to preserve the amenity and protect the safety of patrons.

    Any serious breaches of the Undertaking could result in licence suspension and or fines and reduction in hours or numbers.

  3. Good work by Jan Barham calling for a public defenders office which would be involved in community issues in a similar way to the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) in matters pertaining to the environment

  4. Having visited Vietnam and Thailand I was surprised to see alcohol freely available everywhere from grocery stores to street stalls. But seldom did I see the locals drinking en masse in pubs and bars. Nor did I see the big liquor barns flogging alcohol. It seems to me that tighter regulation just keeps the alcohol industry in the few hands that already control it, and who seem to have the ability to fuel and sustain the drinking culture.


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