David Armati, chairman of the NSW Liquor Administration Board, has delivered an awesome legal weapon to police in the campaign against drunken, unruly and violent behaviour at “hot spot” pubs.

His ruling in favor of residents of inner-city Newcastle is likely to become a template for action against pubs in other parts of NSW where drunken hooliganism is a regular occurrence.

Armati’s under-reported judgment has sent hoteliers into a tailspin with many of them asking their barristers whether it should be challenged in the NSW Supreme Court.

Using the obscure Section 104 of the Liquor Act 1982, Armati convened a conference in Newcastle last month following a written complaint of “undue disturbance of the quiet and good order of the neighbourhood of licensed premises”.

The original complaints were against four pubs but police later expanded the number to 15 who all sent representatives to the conference: the Great Northern Hotel, Customs House, Queens Wharf Brewery, Grand Hotel, Fannys, MJ Finnegans, King Street Hotel, Lucky Country Hotel, Ducks Nuts Hotel, Cambridge Hotel, Clarendon Hotel, Civic Hotel, Crown and Anchor Hotel, CBD Hotel and The Dock.

Armati ordered a 3am shutdown of all inner-Newcastle pubs (previously some of them opened until 5am) and imposed a 1am curfew (stopping patrons kicked out of one pub being allowed into another one down the road).

After 10pm, the following restrictions were ordered on the sale of alcohol:

a. No shots

b. No mixed drinks with more than 30mls of alcohol

c. No RTD (ready to drink) drinks with an alcohol by volume greater than 5%

d. Not more than 4 drinks may be served to any patron at the one time.

e. Free water stations be placed on every bar.

He ordered the sale of alcohol to be stopped 30 minutes prior to closing time and told licensees to retain an employee from 11.00pm until closure “whose sole function shall be that of a supervisor of responsible service of alcohol practices at the bar and to observe the responsible consumption of alcohol throughout the premises”.

Tony Brown, a Novocastrian residents’ advocate who launched the proceedings, welcomed the Armati judgement saying: “This is of national significance. It is the first step in turning the tide against binge drinking among young people. The industry now must take responsibility and stop blaming everybody else.”

Armati’s ground-breaking orders should become required reading for the national anti-binge drinking task force set up by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Health Minister Nicola Roxon.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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