Most involved in the exciting world of liquor licensing would be aware that a few years ago the government started a process of integrating the liquor and gaming licensing functions into a single operational unit, which we now know as the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation. One of the significant challenges, as far as I can tell at least, has been the integration of the computer databases and systems for the two regulatory areas. The winner of the Liquor vs Gaming IT battle was of course (?) Gaming, and licensing processes and data was subsequently transferred over to something called the “COGS” system. I don’t know what COGS stands for. I suspect the “S” might stand for “system” which of course makes calling it the COGS system incorrect (think PIN number, ATM machine etc etc) but I digress.
One of the very awkward consequences of the change over has been the loss of the active not trading” licence category. Back in the day we had licences which were “dormant”. Then we progressed to “active not trading” instead, to go with a number of other classifications – “active trading, “cancelled” and importantly “suspended”. It is the last one, and its substitution for the active not trading category which is causing the problems. To clarify, if OLGR were, pre-COGS, erm… system, advised that a premises had stopped trading, then sensibly the licence status was changed to “active not trading”. Anyone enquiring about the licence, or searching the details would see this and understand that although the licence remained active (so NOT suspended or cancelled) the premises were closed at least temporarily. Post COGS, these licences are listed as “suspended”, because despite the massive advancements in computer technology over the last blah blah etc there is no room for the active not trading category any more.
So here’s the problem. The only way a licence can be legally suspended is via disciplinary action – aka a “show cause”. This is a complex procedure involving the giving of notices to anyone with a relevant interest, receiving and considering submissions and so on. It is not possible for a licence to be suspended simply on the basis of advice to OLGR that the place has closed. So an active not trading style suspension is not really a suspension at all. It’s a convenient way of noting the database that premises are closed, but it is not a suspension. A REAL suspension has specific consequences.
The Liquor Act defines a suspension:
138 Effect of suspension
A licence or permit that is suspended ceases to be in force for the period of suspension.
So a wholesaler, for example, cannot legally supply liquor to the licensee. The licensee also commits an offence if they trade while the licence is suspended. The problem with telling the world the licence is suspended when it’s really not is pretty obvious: suppliers, police, certain internal compliance officers and others who are uninitiated in the vagaries of the COGS system are simply going to take the notation at face value and act accordingly.
I’m reliably informed that there at least 400 other things about the COGS system which need attention and are of higher priority. So actually fixing the technology seems to be out. So I guess for the time being it’s a matter of educating as many people as possible and looking for solutions within the existing unsatisfactory system. My suggestion would be to abandon the pretend suspensions altogether. The “not trading” information, whilst useful, can’t be put ahead of correcting the misuse of legal terminology, and the real consequences for the handful of licensees trying to get on with business.