Drink Tank

The time is now: the people of NSW are ready for change

Once every five years, the NSW Government has the opportunity to make changes to liquor laws that can reduce alcohol harms. That time has come for the NSW Government.

The review could not have come at a better time for community members. Recent years have seen community members calling for serious reforms and coming together to advocate for actions to reduce alcohol harms.

The NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) is an example of this type of community action – bringing together 41 organisations from 11 sectors; NAAPA is an example of community action n to reduce the negative impacts of alcohol on NSW communities.

NAAPA and its supporters have been publically calling for the commencement of the review since the NAAPA Alcohol Summit in March this year. NAAPA has called for the review to be led by an independent chair, for adequate timeframes for consultation and that the process be open and transparent.

By the end of June members of NAAPA had still received no information from the Government on the Review. So NAAPA released its own proposed Terms of Reference for the Governments consideration to keep things moving along. Then on 5 July 2013, Minister Souris made the announcement that the statutory review of the Liquor Act 2007 had commenced. The announced process included an Independent Chair, Mr Michael Foggo and an eight week timeframe for submissions.

The review is now underway, and many community members have taken the opportunity to provide input to the process, 104 submissions have now been published on the OLGR website.  It can be seen from the varying submissions received by Mr Foggo that there is widespread community concern from across NSW, both in rural and metropolitan areas.

It is clear that there is a call for greater community engagement in liquor licensing decisions, despite Coles stating in their submission that “The current community impact submission is effective as the community have ample opportunity to provide comment on applications and, in our experience, do.”

It is also a clear from reviewing the submissions that something needs to be done to address the increasing availability of alcohol across NSW. Recommended polices include reducing trading hours, and implementing liquor outlet density policies to protect communities from being over populated with liquor licenses.

These statutory reviews don’t come around often, NAAPA has taken this opportunity to call for significant reforms to address the failings of the current regulatory system. Reforms starting with requiring licensees to begin paying for their liquor licenses to ensure that they are contributing to the substantial costs of regulating, policing and preventing alcohol-related harms, along with renewing their licence annually. The reason for this is because alcohol-related harms cost the NSW Government $1.029 billion, when in 2011-12 the maximum fees collected by the NSW Government totalled $1.090 million. Knowing the burden that licensed premises can have on communities and the gap in revenue collected versus the costs of alcohol, it is time that the alcohol industry step up and begin to pay for their share.

This is not the only reform NAAPA has suggested, other reforms include:

  • Abolishing 24 hour trading and extending the mandatory closing period for licensed venues to seven hours for all existing and new liquor licensees;
  • Removing the policy responsibility of liquor licensing regulation from the industry focused portfolio of the Department of Trade and Investment;
  • Addressing the reckless discounting of alcohol by banning the sale of alcohol for less than one dollar per standard drink in on- and off-premise venues;
  • Elevating harm minimisation as the sole primary Object of the Act; and
  • Reforming the Community Impact Statement (CIS) scheme to give greater responsibility to licensees and regulators in proving and assessing the social impact that a licence will have on a community.

The communities in NSW have had enough; they have had enough of dealing with alcohol-related harms and had enough of a regulatory system that is clearly failing to protect them.  NAAPA along with its supporters will continue to advocate for meaningful change in NSW as part of the Review process. The period for receipt of submissions has now closed; however, this is not the end of any input to the process. Minister Souris has the final decision on what happens following the review and is scheduled to report on the outcome of the Review by 13 December 2013.

The window of opportunity for meaningful change to the way that liquor is regulated in NSW is now upon us.  Let’s hope that the NSW Government listens to the concerns and calls for action and uses this opportunity to prevent alcohol harms in the future.

Amy Ferguson

Amy is a Senior Policy Officer at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) in Canberra, and coordinates the NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA). Her background is in public health policy in both government and not-for-profit settings.


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