In a major concession to the powerful liquor and gambling lobby, the NSW government will introduce regressive liquor and gambling laws that dramatically strip local communities’ opportunities to oppose high risk, late trading and violent liquor and gambling venues in their local neighbourhoods.
Local grassroots community opposition, with the support of informed and experienced independent experts, has become a small thorn in the side of large liquor and gambling behemoths such as Woolworths (Dan Murphys) and Coles (Liquorland) who control more than 60 per cent of all liquor outlets and poker machines.
The link between the proliferation of large bottle shops selling and promoting unlimited supplies of cheap booze and domestic violence is well established. So too is the link between extended drinking times and alcohol violence and crime.
In the last 12 months, the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) considered 20 applications for bottle shops and refused nine including ones in Kurri and Morisset because of likely detrimental social impact including domestic/family violence.
For the same period ILGA considered 14 applications to extend late trading hours. All but one was refused because of the likely detrimental social impact and public interest.
It is understood that OLGR directly responsible to the minister who introduced these new laws, did not oppose the majority of the 22 above applications rejected by ILGA.
This above scorecard provides the community with some comfort that ILGA was putting the primacy of public safety ahead of the commercial interests of the industry.
A new OLGR replacement agency Liquor & Gaming NSW, within the super department of justice, [will be] controlled by deputy premier Troy Grant, the same minister responsible for introducing these regressive new laws so heavily weighted in favour of the industry.
The same results however, gave ammunition for the industry to demand and obtain from a compliant government, a better return on their investment of direct and indirect political donations and other favours. The most galling element of the government’s compliance is their misleading assertion the law changes are for the betterment of local communities.
Whilst some ILGA practices could be improved, I am unaware of any community submission that supported the new laws.
The new laws seriously erode the independence and primacy of ILGA. They create an additional costly and complex layer of legalism and red tape. This will only advantage the industry by allowing them with their bevy of legal representatives to appeal all unfavourable ILGA decisions to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).
In contrast, the original community objectors will have no right to appear and defend their successful objections against a harmful venue or license condition in NCAT.
Despite alcohol related harms radiating a number of kilometres from some liquor outlets, only a minute number of residents who live within 100 metres of an outlet and lodged an objection will have the remote right of also appealing against an unfavourable ILGA decision to NCAT. They face however, the daunting and intimidating threat of being cross examined by senior industry legal representatives that doesn’t exist with ILGA.
The inconvenient truth ignored by the NSW government is the existing massive financial and resource power imbalance between a resident’s capacity to mount an effective and proportionate legal challenge and buy government access, influence and favours compared with that of the might of Woolworths, Coles and other industry participants.
So who will defend the community’s interest before the adversarial NCAT that has no social impact assessment, alcohol and gambling harm prevention expertise?
We understand the community defence may be mustered by a new OLGR replacement agency Liquor & Gaming NSW within the super department of justice controlled by deputy premier Troy Grant, the same minister responsible for introducing these regressive new laws so heavily weighted in favour of the industry.
This creates a clear conflict of interest. It also negates the ability of Liquor & Gaming NSW to provide impartial and independent advice to residents and other community groups seeking to oppose a high-risk liquor and poker machine applications.
In 2014 senior OLGR officials complained about ‘intimidation‘ from the liquor industry and their rewriting of the important liquor promotion guidelines. There is no confidence that the same industry will not again exert the same undue influence on government policy development, advice and support to the community relating to navigating the complex system including appeals to NCAT.
The lack of any meaningful ‘separation of powers’ like new proposed planning arrangements is a further assault on our democratic system. It’s a step closer to an environment conducive to ‘clientelism‘ corruption highlighted by the High Court in rejecting developer and pub owner McCloy’s appeal against the ICAC.
The inevitable outcome of the flood of costly industry NCAT appeals and erosion of community rights apart from the further enrichment of industry lawyers, will be more high risk pubs, bottle shops, late trading premises and pokies in places where they don’t belong like near schools and vulnerable communities.
This will unfortunately translate into additional but primarily preventable alcohol and gambling related harms like domestic violence and undue disturbances that have profound and disturbing policy implications.
Solicitor Tony Brown has voluntarily assisted the local Byron and other NSW communities mobilise to prevent alcohol related harms and achieve a fair and equal say in liquor related decisions impacting upon their safety, welfare and amenity