WA election spells imminent liquor law liberalisation

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 4th March 2013

Under the next State government, Western Australia’s liquor licensing laws are likely to be relaxed according to recent announcements by each of the major political parties. Western Australians head to the polls this coming Saturday, 9 March 2013.

Labor opposition leader, Mark McGowan, announced last Friday (1 March 2013) the WA Labor Party’s proposed changes. According to Mr McGowan, “all restaurants, regardless of size, will be able to sell liquor without a meal”.

The announcement was described as the launch of ‘WA Labor’s Liquor Reform Policy: Reform Stage 2’ for the current 2013 election campaign.

The proposed WA Labor reforms would include:

  • The introduction of a new category called ‘Micro Bars’ of 60 patron capacity, specifically to cater for the emerging trend of even smaller, more discreet venues
  • A reduction of liquor license fees
  • A streamlined application process for ‘small bars’
  • Review of the current automatic objection to all licence applications by WA Government agencies
  • The introduction of a Banned Drinking Register, modelled on legislation introduced in the Northern Territory in 2011

The WA Labor announcement followed the earlier announcement by WA Liberal Premier, Colin Barnett on 10 February 2013 that under a re-elected Liberal Coalition government, alcohol could be served without a meal at any restaurants that hold fewer than 120 people.

This also follows the current Government’s January 2013 announcement to review the State’s current liquor laws.

Both parties’ proposals have been met with criticism from health advocacy groups because the proposals will relax liquor laws.

“The alcohol policies we have seen so far from the major parties fail to recognise either the magnitude of the problem or the extent of community concerns,” says Professor Mike Daube, Director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth.

“It is disappointing that neither major party seems willing to recognise that alcohol is the cause of massive immediate and long-term health and social problems, as well as much crime and violence. We need a serious, comprehensive approach, not simply band-aids and more access,” he said.

WA Labor’s proposals have also been heavily criticised by the liquor industry.

According to Bradley Woods, CEO of the Australian Hotels Association WA, the Liberals’ policy maintains “an important distinction between restaurants and bars, hotels and taverns”, while WA Labor’s proposed plan would rather eliminate this distinction, allowing restaurants to fulfil similar practices to hotels and taverns, but through a less onerous licence application.

“The requirement to be seated in a restaurant is the last key distinction between restaurants and bar licenses. Removing the seating requirement means all bars and restaurants operate on the same liquor service basis,” said Woods. “It removes the last distinction between a restaurant and a pub, small bar, tavern, hotel or nightclub, WA Labor is in effect creating over 1000 new 24 hour bars across the State.”

Under current law, liquor licences are granted according to satisfaction of a ‘public interest’ test, in which a range of issues are considered including the effects of an establishment serving liquor on the surrounding community. Because of the current restrictions on the sale of liquor within restaurants, these licences are currently less onerous in acquisition.