Sydneysiders with a yen for “hole-in-the-wall” pubs might celebrate with a cold beverage when the NSW Government announces changes to its licensing laws today, letting small bars open in inner-Sydney.
The new laws, which will partly adopt a private member’s bill introduced by Sydney Lord Mayor and independent MP Clover Moore in September – will scrap licenses priced from $5000 to $15,000, which require bars to serve alcohol with meals. In contrast, small wine bars without diners will now have to pay a small application fee, while entertainment venues will be able to get a cheaper liquor license.
Liquor licenses will be handed out by a new body, the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority, an enlargement of the present Casino Control Authority.
As they stand, NSW’s archaic liquor licensing laws effectively ensure only large licensed venues and restaurants are viable by charging thousands of dollars for licenses, enabling alcohol only to be served with meals, and forcing new license applicants to carry out expensive social impact studies.
Moore says she hasn’t seen a copy of the bill, but welcomes changes to the NSW Liquor Act that makes it easier to create a diverse and eclectic bar culture. “I welcome the announcement that the Government’s bill will allow restaurants to serve alcohol without meals, and reduce fees for small bars to $500.”
She also says the new laws should do away with social impact statements, a “costly and time-consuming” process, along with some welcome changes.
President of the Australian Hotels Association (NSW), John Thorpe, has been critical of the changes. In a recent opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, Thorpe wrote: “We believe the provision of food is critical in addressing potential intoxication.” He identified a number of inadequacies with small bars, including no requirements for toilets on the premises, lack of compliance with social impact assessments and higher noise levels.
A spokesperson for the association contacted today said they weren’t prepared to comment before the laws were formally announced, but it’s fair to say the hotels lobby isn’t happy.
The small bars vs large hotels battle has been debated passionately by punters on the ground, with an online campaign for supporters of the law reforms at raisethebar.org.au.
A Facebook group started to support the laws, called “We want funky little pubs in Sydney”, has grown to more than 6500 members. It has a new satirical foe called “I’m sick of Sydney’s funky little pubs and bars in laneways”. The group’s description says it wants “a return to the large grogatoriums with pokies and state-of-the-art TAB facilities”.
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