Since the beginning of settlement Sydney there has been a strong political nexus between the hotel owners, the various arms of law administration and the politicians.

It is a culture that has adapted to change and flourished in the sunshine of mutual advantage. The social cost has been the entrenchment of a culture of binge drinking and gambling. It hides behind the banalities of signs exhorting the victims to contact the various forms of social support made available in order to somehow persuade the perpetrators that it is the victims that are the weak, when in fact it is the hotel industry and government that are most addicted to these socially destructive behaviour patterns.

Now the NSW Government has introduced legislation to enable a culture of European style bars to emerge. It has been said that Melbourne and Adelaide offer the example the state wishes to emulate but old habits die hard. My informant in the industry reports that while it is true that fees for these new licences have been reduced to $500 the number of seats have been restricted to a barely profitable 100 and any future new licenses will be granted only with the provision of a (Catch 22) Community Impact Statement.

And what is, or how does one obtain such a statement? Well evidently no-one is quite sure and so the Government is distributing a 43 page document to clarify the policy. Forgive my cynical response that this Government clarification obfuscates and muddies the waters rather than facilitating the granting of the licences.

The Government has complicated the process of the granting of licenses with this device. Normally it is the role of local government to determine areas that are suitable for a restaurant to trade. Now it seems that not only does one have to seek that approval but the applicant must consult with a diverse range of lobby groups and seek their approval. A particularly Orwellian slant is given by the fact that the amount of consultation deemed appropriate is determined by the “Authority” not by Law.

In fact the license applicant faces a minimum of one month delay and possibly longer.

A prospective tenant of a new development will not be sure that they will be able to operate a licensed restaurant or bar until it has been approved by “the Authority”. Leases and purchases of prospective sites will have to be signed on a provisional basis.

It has been said that although the hotels may have lost the first battle in the liberalisation of our liquor laws they are determined not to lose the war. They will be supported by the lawyers who stand to lose a great deal if the laws are genuinely simplified. The judicial system of Gaming and Licensing could be entirely dispensed with but it provides channels of cash to political parties and hacks from Cronulla to Blacktown to Newcastle.

The backrooms of regional politics are tainted with the same culture and they will fight to preserve the status quo no matter how many security guards must be posted at the doors to the swill factories, no matter how many low income families are ruined by the pokies.

Do we really lack the political courage to stop this farce? The courage to usher in genuine reform, to slash the waste and return the police to crime fighting, instead of policing a set of corrupt laws that impose a banal and destructive ethos on our social fabric?

Peter Fray

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