As a practitioner in the liquor licensing field of quite a few years now, I have to admit to finding the current trading hours debate a little strange. At the risk of getting political, reacting legislatively to what are essentially emotional and illogical arguments (whether in the press or elsewhere) rather than looking at the substance of the matter seems more like the behaviour of the previous government than the new one.
I can’t even remember who was in power in 1992 when the current legislation commenced, but as a result of the original drafting of that law, and through subsequent amendments, what we have today actually includes some decent teeth when it comes to trading hours. Even back in 2000 when we took a case (unsuccessfully) to the Liquor Appeals Tribunal arguing for the ability to trade 241 hours the clear legal authority for the hours to be taken away in the event that trading activity lead to problems in the locality was a key argument.
That authority has been used on a number of occasions over the years, and importantly, a number of those decisions have been supported on appeal, reinforcing the power to take action where necessary. In the 2006 decision in the Molly Malones2 case for example, the Tribunal supported Liquor Licensing and Police when they took action to reduce the hours of that premises. The Tribunal found that “the cancellation of the privilege of the extended hours permit”3 was reasonable having regard to the violence which had occurred on a number of occasions. More recently the Normanby Hotel suffered a similar fate when the licensee failed to secure 5am trading in a challenge to a deemed refusal to renew the relevant permit4. The Tribunal was not satisfied that the licensee had “the ability to control the noise and behaviour of the number of persons who could reasonably be expected to be on the premises between 3:00am and 5:00am” due to its findings about the history of problems associated with the hotel.
Recently I heard Clubs Queensland’s Doug Flockhart on radio stating that there were very few 5am traders in the State ? around 100 out of 6,500 premises. Since 2009 and the introduction of substantial licence fees linked to late trading, to the list of those who have lost their late trading privileges for disciplinary reasons we can add a group of licensees who have opted to reduce hours to save costs.
So where does that leave us? Theoretically, we have around 100 operators in the State, each of which runs a tight enough ship not to have drawn the adverse attention of the authorities, and which are financial enough to meet the recurrent costs associated with this industry segment (which include not only higher licence fees but: security personnel, at costs of perhaps $20,000 annually for a smaller venue, and well into 6 figures for the larger ones, top notch surveillance cameras, ID scanners in an increasing number of places as well as penalty rates for staff and so on).
We do not have uniform trading hours in Queensland. We have trading finishing at nearly every hour of the day and night. There’s a licensed restaurant down the road from my place which doesn’t even open for dinner. So the proposed change in hours negatively affects those who have been able to retain 4 or 5am trading, and at the same time provides a benefit to those competing in the same market but with shorter hours. It makes absolutely no sense that a number of the businesses which will benefit from a blanket reduction in trading hours already have reduced hours as a result of poor trading practices.
Ill leave it to others to analyse broader statistics, but anyone who thinks 5am trading per se causes violent behaviour needs to look closely at the times when most of the reported assaults occur. Im unaware of any evidence base which even suggests a causal link, and certainly no logical basis for the view that reducing hours for some of the venues but not others will lead to a reduction in poor behaviour. If you accept that trading hours by themselves do not cause poor behavior, then making changes to those hours becomes nothing more than some kind of social experiment: an experiment which places businesses and jobs at risk.
What Malcolm Turnbull said of the mining super profits tax is apposite to the remaining crop of late trading licensees. He said you dont nobble your front-runners. Doug Flockhart said it made sense “statistically” to bring hours back to 3am. I would have thought the reverse made more sense, whether statistically or otherwise. In circumstances where we have strong and proven legislation around extended trading hours, why should those surviving licensees be effectively targeted in the absence of some real link between their trading activities and problems in the community? What’s completely clear is that in the past, including the relatively recent past, hours have been reduced where there is a proper case for action to be taken. I would defy anyone who suggests that Police and Liquor Licensing are anything other than vigilant in the prosecution of these matters, and it follows that licensees who have retained extended hours must arguably be doing the right thing.
Knowing all this, I’m left bemused that any government would contemplate arbitrarily reducing trading hours. The regime which is in place was created by Government, and comes with its own checks and balances. The competitive water has found its own level. There is simply no case for experimenting with changes in hours when the outcome is likely to be the loss of businesses and jobs for no improvement in behavior.
1. Shooters Saloon Bar 4  QLAT 32
2. Molly Malones Townsville Pty Ltd v Chief Executive, Liquor Licensing Division  QCCTL 4
3. ib id at paragraph 69
4. Revestar Pty Ltd  QLAT 76