After an intense lobbying campaign by the NSW pub industry, Premier Nathan Rees is reportedly ready to ease his crackdown on alcohol-fuelled brawling and anti-social behavior at “hot spot” hotels.
Soon after taking the premiership Rees named and shamed 40 pubs which had a statistically high incidence of drunken misbehaviour and ordered Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione to step up anti-booze patrols.
This infuriated publicans who have given millions of dollars to the ALP’s war chest in return for a free ride, or at least a non-interference policy, from the Labor Government.
With more than $12 million in the bank, and having just spent $6 million on new headquarters in Macquarie Street, the Australian Hotels Association is in no mood to be rolled by the weak and unpopular Rees Government.
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It has used all its lobbying influence to cut a better deal for its members, especially rolling back the drift to restrict trading hours and to increase fines and sanctions for licensing offences.
It has valuable allies within the government, including Rees’s chief of staff Graeme Wedderburn, senior policy adviser Jeremy Anderson, a former consultant to the AHA, and treasurer Eric Roozendaal, the former ALP general secretary who helped establish publicans as pre-eminent donors to the Labor electoral machine.
NSW’s poker machine tax remains the lowest in Australia and was not reviewed in the recent June Budget. With the State’s revenue base collapsing, the hotel industry couldn’t believe its luck.
Having escaped a tax hike, the top end publicans now want to get the Office of Liquor and Gaming and the police force off their case.
They believe that shaping the regulatory system in their favor is a right and an entitlement, and that they have special rights not enjoyed by other businesses or citizens.
The government’s imminent backdown will be an open admission of the power of the pubs in public policy in NSW. What about Her Majesty’s Opposition? Is it capable of telling the AHA to take a running jump? No, not really.