Gwyn Rees, ClubsACT Acting Chief Executive was quick to the barricades to fight for the rights of Canberra’s pubs and clubs to serve alcohol between 3am and 5am.
ClubsACT’s fierce opposition to 3am last drinks is matched only by its determination and imagination in attempting to portray its membership base of 52 licensed clubs in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) as the ‘little guys’ working only in the service of the Canberra community.
In reality, the industry association represents a multimillion dollar behemoth, poker machine palaces lubricated with alcohol and contributing unknown level of harm to the local community.
ClubsACT is just as creative when it comes to cherry picking data to argue its case.
Here’s what ClubsACT failed to disclose.
Smaller clubs with capacity for up to 80 people who trade up to midnight, pay only $2,500 a year for their liquor licence.
Clubs in the ACT with a capacity for more than 350 people, which trade until 4am, pay approximately $16,000 in annual liquor licence fees.
These same big clubs earn on average $21,000 per year from one poker machine.
That’s right; the profit from one poker machine alone will more than cover the cost of the liquor licensing fee.
Many of Canberra’s big clubs have more than 400 poker machines, with some boasting as many as 700.
Do the maths, and ClubsACT’s opposition to paying increased licence fees on financial grounds seems extremely misleading and disingenuous.
In rejecting an equitable proposal that would see late-night trading venues pay more for the harms they contribute to, Mr Rees fails to explain who will shoulder the burden instead. Who will pay for the emergency department presentations, hospitalisations, policing, street cleaning and other costs from the resulting harms?
The ACT taxpayer?
Is Mr Rees seriously suggesting ACT residents should all pay extra on our rates so that ClubsACT can trade around the clock, pushing booze and poker machines?
ClubsACT claims that the 17 nightclubs in 2010 have now been reduced to seven. However Mr Rees fails to acknowledge that these changes have nothing to do with government regulation, but rather the evolving preferences of consumers and industry’s failure to adapt and respond.
It is not the ACT Government’s responsibility to prop up large night clubs that are unsustainable and operating on a failed and out-dated business model.
ClubsACT incorrectly assert that the “thriving nightlife culture” that “many young people enjoy” is being “destroyed”.
Canberra does have a thriving nightlife and entertainment culture. One which is not dependent solely on large nightclubs that trade all hours of the night, or on the little casinos represented by ClubsACT.
Rather, Canberra’s vibrancy is the result of the large numbers of diverse venues that open and close well before 3am.
ClubsACT are just as uninformed when it comes to alcohol harm in the region.
To suggest that somehow the ACT is the one Australian jurisdiction immune to alcohol harm is blatantly false.
The latest harms data is irrefutable. We witness these harms every day.
Between March 2015 and 2016 alcohol-related ambulance attendances increased by 5.6 per cent up from 550 to 581. Similarly, sobering-up centre referrals increased by 19 per cent, from 121 to 144.
Between 2013-14 and 2014-15 emergency data presentations for people with the toxic effects for alcohol have increased by 7.3 per cent (from 710 to 762), and emergency presentations for alcohol-related injuries in the ACT have increased by five per cent (from 7,057 to 7,411).
Winding back trading hours to 3am will not end our vibrant nightlife. It will enhance it by making our city a safer place to go at night. 3am is by no means early or overly restrictive.
At the end of the day, we trust the ACT Government will put the interests of the local community ahead of a small number of casino-like booze and gambling venues that ClubsACT represent.