Pressure is growing on controversial Victorian Liquor Licensing director Sue Maclellan over her enforcement of the state government’s liquor licensing laws following last night’s backflip on live music by the Brumby government.
As up to 30,000 Melburnians prepare to engulf Swanston Street to protest the legislated link between live music and violence, Crikey can reveal that Maclellan waged a sustained campaign against much-loved rock venue The Tote following a technical licence breach last April. Yesterday, protest organisers signed an accord with the state government dumping the high risk security requirements that caused the pub to close.
“We received more visits in that six-month period than we did in the past eight years”, former Tote proprietor Bruce Milne told Crikey this morning.
“I was just a target. They were going to find a way to close the doors on me and there was nothing I could do.”
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Milne said after he incorrectly listed a director on an administrative form, plain-clothes compliance officers, dubbed “Sue’s stormtroopers”, visted the Tote relentlessly in the lead up to its last day of trade on January 18 to check the pub wasn’t in breach of the now-abandoned security requirements.
Milne said the Tote received a letter in May from Yarra Council questioning the venue’s compliance under local government building codes. However, when Milne contacted the council, he was told the letter was an initiative of Liquor Licensing — the authority had allegedly leaned on the council to pursue the pub through other channels.
Allegations also persist over the presence of covert liquor licensing officers inside the Tote on Sunday 17 January as 3,000 people protested its closure outside. Security guards have told Crikey that they recognised officers from previous encounters. One of the individuals, who was not drinking, was confronted by Tote management but they declined to identify themselves. (Liquor Licensing Victoria has denied this, saying no employees were present at the Tote on the day in question).
The new accord, forshadowed by Crikey a month ago, was signed at 4pm yesterday in an apparent attempt to defuse anti-Labor sentiment ahead of today’s rally. On ABC radio this morning, a humbled Premier slapped down the one-size-fits-all laws under Section 58 of the Act that Maclellan has staunchly defended.
“We’re recommending that she remove the blanket requirement…one-size fits all is not necessarily the best way forward,” the Premier said, agreeing that the consultation regime when the high-risk rules were negotiated two years ago was inadequate.
According to the new accord, current licenses will revert to their status before Maclellan began her high-risk crackdown with a reduction in security to a level determined by the venue in consultation with local police.
Fair Go For Live Music Chief John Perring told Crikey that the new requirements, if they had been abandoned at their inception, could have saved the Tote, despite the venue’s other problems with its lease and mounting debt.
However, Perring said there was still a long-way to go to finally de-link the “high-risk” requirement with live music: “That’s what we’ll be pushing for in the next 12 months, to remove the link entirely”.
On ABC this morning, Brumby said the cases of smaller non-music proprietors, which have seen their liquor licensing fees increase by up to 500%, may also be re-examined with industry input.
A spokesperson for gaming minister Tony Robinson said that Macllellan’s department will soon be merged with the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation to increase efficiency and reduce administrative costs.
Maclellan told Crikey that she was “yet to make a decision about re-applying for her job” when her contact expires in April. Insiders are expecting the position to be widely advertised.