On 18 December 2017 came the first wave of reforms to our liquor licensing system many of which relate to industry licencing changes. The changes are designed to increase the efficiency of industry processes and eventually to streamline liquor licences.
To date, we have seen the implementation of the following:
Exemptions for low-risk businesses
Low-risk businesses such as hairdressers, retirement villages, businesses selling gifts, jewellers, cruise ships and patient care accommodation are no longer required to apply for, or hold, liquor licences in order to provide drinks to their clients.
The limit on the number of bed and breakfast guests that can be served without a licence has also increased from 8 to 16 people.
Relaxation of restrictions on trading hours
In the case of hotel, club and special circumstances licences, licence holders are now able to open and serve liquor for longer periods on Sundays and holidays such as Christmas Day, the day after Christmas Day, Good Friday, the day after Good Friday and New Year’s Eve.
Holders of these licences are now able to provide for consumption on premises between 8am and midnight on Sundays, and are allowed to sell liquor on the above named holidays according to the trading hours that apply to that day of the week.
These changes will reduce the need for most new applicants to seek extended trading authorisation.
Changes to entertainment consent
It is now easier for licensed venues to host various types of entertainment events such as music and comedy without first needing to obtain consent.
New applicants will not need to apply for consent, and existing licence holders can disregard most conditions of their licence that previously placed restrictions on things such as the types of music performed, the number of live music performers, the placement of speakers, and the decibel limit on noise.
Consent will still be required for prescribed entertainment such as explicit entertainment, martial arts and boxing.
Licence holders will also need to ensure they still comply with any other Acts and relevant codes of practice.
Introduction of a temporary approval process for responsible persons
In a move that will support employers, a new process for granting temporary approvals of responsible persons has been introduced.
This process will allow people to be temporarily approved for up to 6 months whilst the responsible persons vetting process takes places. This means they will be able to commence work quickly, rather than waiting weeks or sometimes months for the formal approval to occur.
Individuals can now make an application themselves. Previously the application had to be made by the licensee employing that person.
Stronger penalties for supply to minors
Anyone who illegally serves alcohol to minors will be hit with stronger penalties.
Whilst parents and caregivers can still provide alcohol to some minors at some locations and with adequate supervision, hosts of large parties and events (particularly where an entry fee is charged) will face harsh penalties.
Practical changes to the application process and existing conditions
Holders of some existing licences and applicants for new licences such as hotel licences can now ignore the requirement to serve meals at certain times, and to remain open to specified periods. They can also avoid the need to define certain areas of the premises such as dining, reception and sampling areas.
For new applicants, many of the requirements that relate to advertising of a new application have also been relaxed.
Whilst some of the changes that have come into effect have already, and will continue to have a largely positive impact on licence holders, some of the biggest changes are yet to come.
So what are some of the changes that we are going to see?
New licence classes
At some point later in the year (or perhaps early 2019), we expect to see a complete change to the classes of licences available.
Most notably, we will see the phasing out of special circumstances licences, and the introduction of short term licences. There will also be a re-classification of the other existing licence types.
All licence types will be effected including those relating to production and sales of retail and wholesale merchants.
Abolishment of the ‘needs test’
Whilst it not yet known how this change will play out in reality, the often dreaded ‘needs test’ that must be satisfied when applying for certain licences such as a hotel licence will be abolished and replaced with a ‘community interest test.'
Fit and Proper Person test to be tightened
The standard required for a person to be a ‘fit and proper person’ to hold a licence will be increased. This will mean that ‘close associates’ of those person applying will be closely scrutinised to ensure they are not members of a prescribed organisation or subject to any control orders.
Increased regulation relating to persons barred from licensed premises
A number of provisions will be amended or added to provide a licensee with greater powers in respect of barred persons. Those persons will face harsher penalties if they fail to comply with the conditions of the barring.
An authorised person will also be entitled to request that a certain person leave a licensed premises immediately. Non-compliance by that person could mean that they face a hefty fine.
The impact of the current and upcoming changes on the industry as a whole is largely yet to be seen, however it seems that majority of the changes will be welcomed by most in the industry.