The moratorium which has stalled or blocked applications for extended trading hours for the last year or so has been extended for a further three years ? ostensibly as part of the Government?s response to the Law Justice and Safety Committee?s report on alcohol related violence. This is despite the existence of strong legislation around trading hours, and the support on appeal for the use of that legislative power to refuse applications for extended trading, and to reduce trading hours through disciplinary action.
One wonders how stifling competition by placing further obstacles in the path of new market entrants can be deemed necessary to achieve a balanced outcome. So what?s really going on?
In a chain of causation sense, an overly simplistic and unfair licence fee regime is largely to blame for the moratorium. With the introduction of licence fees on 1 January 2009, licensees with approval to trade until 1.00am, 2.00am or 3.00am all pay the same licence fee uplift of close to $8000 per annum. This prompted many licensees (including some 80 plus ALH hotels) to apply to extend hours in line with the fee structure.
This in turn prompted objections from members of the public and local authorities seeking to have the applications refused. But, rather than simply grant those applications with sufficient merit and refuse those without, the Government put in place a state-wide, legislative, retrospective moratorium to block the consideration of existing applications and the lodging of further applications.
The only concession to would-be new late traders was to allow applications from premises within certain identified precincts. However, the recognition of precincts like Caxton Street and Fortitude Valley is of no comfort to many applicants. Areas such as West End and Park Road have been ignored, as has Airlie Beach and other notable areas which feature concentrations of hospitality venues.
So in addition to applying the brakes to the ALH value-for-licence-fee strategy, the moratorium blocks:
- an application for a licence for a new venue in Airlie Beach which will only be viable if it can operate on the same terms as other businesses in the locality.
- an application for a new business in Park Road which needs 2.00am trading to attract its market.
- an application for a function-based business in West End which needs 1.00am trading to satisfy its intended clients.
Most applications have ample justification, and after an exhaustive process would ordinarily receive favourable consideration. This is because the operation of most businesses during extended hours trading periods have little or no negative impact on the community. The small number of inappropriate proposals should simply be refused.
Instead of the moratorium, what is needed is courage.
- Courage to either grant or refuse the ALH applications according to their individual merit.
- Courage to take a more sophisticated approach to solving problems, such as lifting the ban on applications which relate to trading hours until say 2.00am.
- Courage to engage and negotiate with affected parties to reach agreed outcomes on issues like trading hours, rather than running and hiding.
- Courage to overhaul and improve the equity in the licence fee system which is, as always, the root of it all.