Liquor and Registered Clubs Legislation Further Amendment Bill
|About this Item||Speakers||Face Mr Jack
||Business||Bill, First Reading, Second Reading
Bill introduced and read a first time.
Mr FACE (Charlestown—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development) [10.28 a.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Over the past six years the Carr Labor Government has done much to reform the liquor laws so that they focus on minimising alcohol-related harm and reducing under-age drinking. That process has been ongoing since 1995, with the relevant legislation being amended as issues relating to harm minimisation and under-age drinking have been identified. When the Government's legislation promoting liquor harm minimisation was introduced in 1995, it was groundbreaking legislation in Australian and world terms. However, the reform of the liquor laws was never going to be achieved at the one time.
Recently in another place the Hon. Greg Pearce made the amazing statement that I am constantly amending the provisions of the Liquor Act. The honourable member is obviously not aware that, because of many decades of neglect, it has been necessary for the Government to amend, over a period of time, various sections of the Liquor Act. Some of those amendments are highlighted today. For example, nurses can be subjected to a fine of $5,500 merely for giving a nursing home patient a drink. The Hon. Greg Pearce could probably be excused for making such a statement as he has been a member of Parliament for only a short period. However, I found his comments most unbecoming and quite off the mark.
As I said earlier, the process of reforming the liquor laws was never going to be achieved at the one time. That is why the Government has progressed a series of harm minimisation and under-age drinking changes in recent years. During Olympic and millennium celebrations people's conduct in streets and other public places was better than it was for similar events in 1988 leading up to the bicentenary, when police were running a shuttle service for arrests—unlike during Olympic and millennium celebrations, which were attended by hundreds of thousands of people, when police arrested no more than a few handfuls of people. Obviously the Government's actions have had some impact on community behaviour. But those reforms were not achieved overnight.
When the Government introduced harm minimisation legislation the liquor industry was not happy. However, to its credit, it backed that legislation. Not one section of the liquor industry has not now lauded the Government's actions. Much of what has been done in this State has been adopted nationally. When harm minimisation legislation was introduced members of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union were concerned about the fact that, under the legislation, they would have to determine whether a patron was sober. It was their view that more responsibility should be placed on individuals, and that is what has occurred recently.
Any individual who now refuses to leave licensed premises and misbehaves will receive a substantial fine of $550. I do not believe that to be a draconian measure. Individuals must take responsibility for their actions. The Government had to get this legislation right. What was happening inside and outside licensed premises was unacceptable. Union members were the first to agree—as the industry, licensees of clubs, hotels, bottle shops and, to some degree, restaurant caterers did—that the legislation should be amended. This recent action prevented the occurrence in Australia, as is currently happening in America, of server liability cases. People in America have been brought before courts in the civil jurisdiction and fined by way of damages. That is what would have occurred in Australia if this legislation had not been amended.
Honourable members will recall a recent example of that process. Legislation was introduced last year so that action could be taken against the sale of undesirable liquor products which have a special appeal to minors. Once again, the Government has tried to address the problem of younger people—that is, people under the age of 18—obtaining access to alcohol. The first and only product to be prohibited from sale in New South Wales so far has been alcoholic ice-blocks. The fact that the legislation has been used only once so far is a good thing. That is to the credit of liquor merchants and those who supply liquor. Recently a New Zealand-based company produced in Australia a range of products that left a lot to be desired.
We do not want our community flooded with undesirable liquor products that we will need to ban as well. That legislation was introduced as a result of serious concerns that were expressed about alcoholic ice-blocks. Their potential to encourage under-age drinking was an issue for the Government, the liquor industry and the community. Many people expressed strong views against such products. Ice-blocks have a measure of appeal to young people. Someone from the industry attempted to get around the intent of the legislation and the expectations of the community. It is with that legislation in mind that the Government introduced this bill.
Research indicates that the way in which alcoholic beverages are marketed and promoted can also be attractive to minors. Recent United Kingdom research into alcohol beverage marketing and its impact on under-age drinkers, particularly the marketing of pre-mixed designer drinks, recommended systematic monitoring and controls over marketing practices. Similar research in the United States of America considered the impact of alcohol beverage advertising on under-age drinkers and recommended that public officials pay attention to the categories of wine coolers and pre-mixed drinks on the market.
All the drinks that I have just described have a great appeal to young people. That is not to say that they should not be allowed to consume them. However, the Government is concerned about some of the marketing practices. It might not come as a surprise to honourable members to hear that concerns about the appeal of pre-mixed drinks for under-age drinkers have also been expressed through the media and in various other ways in Australia. Those concerns have increased in recent times as a result of the expanding range of pre-mixed, ready-to-drink products. Changes to excise duty have resulted in lower prices for pre-mixed alcoholic beverages and, in some cases, their retail price is comparable to the cost of some soft drinks.
New South Wales liquor laws currently do not allow specific action to be taken when there are concerns about undesirable liquor promotions that appeal to under-age drinkers. Recently I viewed with some concern the sale of sausages in a supermarket being used in an attempt to sell a liquor product. Some amazement was expressed by those promoting the sale of the sausages and they said that I was a bit of a spoilsport. I do not believe it is desirable to promote the sale of sausages through the offer of free alcohol or a lead offer of alcohol. It would be apparent to all honourable members that juveniles would have access to that alcohol.
In a recent example, a complaint was received by the Department of Gaming and Racing about the sale of pre-mixed alcoholic sodas for $1 a bottle. The liquor laws do not allow action to be taken to stop that undesirable promotion. This bill will amend the Liquor and Registered Clubs Legislation Amendment Act so that action can be taken when concern has been expressed that an undesirable liquor promotion has a special appeal to under-age drinkers. Recently I spoke to liquor merchants and other vendors who expressed concern about what they considered to be draconian measures. I assured them—and they accepted my word—that there would be consultation with industry in relation to the imposition of any regulations. We will work together to ensure that we weed out those who, from time to time, want to test out the law—for example, producers of alcoholic ice-blocks.
The bill empowers the Director of Liquor and Gaming to issue reasonable directions to liquor licensees and registered clubs where a promotion is likely to have a special appeal to minors and it is in the public interest to prohibit that promotion. The director will not need to use this power every day of the week. Non-compliance with such directions will be an offence. The Government appreciates that there is some opposition to this type of measure from within the liquor industry. However, I assure the industry that the Government is looking to work in a co-operative manner in relation to the new legislation. That is the approach I have always taken on contentious matters. That is why the circumstances under which the director can issue directions will be subject to guidelines approved by me as the responsible Minister. I have given the industry that assurance as well. The liquor industry has always acted responsibly and has indicated to me it will continue to do so.
This administrative approach will provide an opportunity for the liquor industry to be consulted in the development of the guidelines. The guidelines will provide a framework to assist the director in determining whether a direction shall be issued, and the mechanism for issuing directions. The Government sincerely hopes that the new legislation will not need to be used. We hope that the liquor industry will ensure its promotions are responsible and do not encourage minors to purchase or drink alcohol. We want all liquor licensees and registered clubs to continue to play their part in promoting responsible service and consumption of alcohol, while doing the best they can to prevent under-age drinking.
However, we need to be able to take effective action where necessary. The undesirable liquor product laws that were passed by the Parliament last year are a good example of the best intentions in the world failing to stop a potentially harmful product from falling into the wrong hands. Last year we needed to take definitive action and send a strong message to alcohol manufacturers. This legislation also sends a powerful message in relation to alcohol promotions. This significant initiative makes another important contribution to the Government's ongoing liquor harm minimisation and under-age drinking program.
The opportunity has also been taken with this bill to advance some administrative and miscellaneous amendments to the liquor laws. I will now outline those amendments, which form part of the Government's ongoing program of improvements to the operation of the liquor laws. Under the Liquor Act licensed vessels are not permitted to sell or supply liquor while they are at their berth. However, the Act does allow liquor to be sold and supplied while a vessel is moored, as long as it has left its berth and is taking on board passengers and/or crew for a voyage, or passengers are alighting after a voyage.
Recently, the new King Street Wharf in Darling Harbour has been promoted both as a berth and a mooring point for charter and cruise vessels. As a result, the Charter Vessel Association, along with some vessel operators, approached the Government seeking changes to the liquor laws to allow liquor to be sold to passengers while a vessel is at berth. Operators claim they have been disadvantaged by having to move their vessels from the new King Street Wharf. Previously they were able to sell liquor while moored at this wharf and taking on passengers. The bill amends the Liquor Act to allow wharves at which liquor may be sold to passengers while a licensed vessel is berthed to be prescribed in the liquor regulation. Allowing berths to be prescribed will ensure that the police and relevant regulatory authorities can be consulted regarding specific wharves before liquor is permitted to be sold on vessels berthed at those wharves.
I point out that it is the Government's intention that only a few of the established wharves where charter and cruise vessels regularly collect passengers for a voyage will be prescribed. Operators will not be able to moor their vessels at every wharf in New South Wales and sell liquor prior to and after a cruise. The Government will not prescribe scores of wharves across the State. This proposal was trialled during the Olympic Games and, to my knowledge, all the operators worked effectively and complied with the requirements. However, if vessel operators abuse this privilege, the amendment will be reviewed. This legislation will not allow licensed vessels to operate as floating bars at any wharf, as liquor will be permitted to be sold only to passengers who must be boarding the vessel for a voyage or who are about to disembark the vessel after it has completed its voyage.
Amendments made to the Liquor Act in 1999 require the operator of a business with a caterer's liquor licence to have as its principal business the provision of catering services for fee, gain or reward. Those amendments, which have generally worked well, were made to protect the integrity of the caterer's licence in response to concerns about applications made by businesses that were unconnected with the provision of food and/or beverages. For caterers who obtained their licence prior to the 1999 amendments, transitional provisions provided a two-year exemption from the new principal business requirement. That exemption, which expires on 25 November 2001, recognised that some licensees would need to make significant changes to business arrangements. I have taken note of the representations that have been made to me.
Concerns have been raised by some caterers that the principal business requirement, which will apply from November this year, will result in significant costs and disruption to their business. They will be required to establish a separate entity to operate their caterer's licence. Restaurants, vignerons, and university unions that have operated a catering business for some years are particularly concerned. The university unions have made strong representations to me. Given the substantial costs that these small businesses may incur in complying with the principal business" requirement, the bill extends the current exemption from the requirement for a further three years, that is, until 25 November 2004. In the meantime, it is expected that the future structure of caterer's licences will be an issue in the National Competition Policy review of the Liquor Act. That review is currently in its final stages.
An exemption is currently provided in the Liquor Act for the sale of liquor by a medical practitioner, a registered nurse or a pharmacist where the sale is for medicinal purposes only. Concerns have been raised about the legal situation where liquor is provided in hospitals and nursing homes to patients or residents as an accompaniment to food or social interaction. This practice is becoming more popular as these facilities provide higher levels of service. However, it is possible that individual directors and employees of a hospital or nursing home could be in breach of the Liquor Act. It is necessary to clear up this uncertainty. As I said earlier, there have been many ambiguities in the Liquor Act and other Acts under my administration. This exemption will ensure that hospital and nursing home operators and employees are not concerned about possible breaches of the Liquor Act where liquor is provided to patients and residents.
Therefore, the bill amends the current exemption so that it also clearly applies to the provision of liquor to persons who are receiving medical and/or nursing care in a hospital, nursing home or similar facility. The exemption applies only to the person in charge of the facility, or to a person acting with the authority of that person. It recognises that people in a hospital or nursing home, who are generally incapable of looking after themselves properly, should be able to obtain an alcoholic drink without the law intruding, in the same way that adults serve themselves in their own homes. I point out that the exemption does not allow liquor to be provided to minors in any circumstances.
The exemption applies only to patients and residents; I emphasise that it does not apply to their guests or to staff. If an institution wants to operate a licensed cafe or bar, it will need to go through the normal process of obtaining a liquor licence. It is important to note that it will be up to the institution concerned to set its own policies relating to the provision of liquor. Many of these institutions are run by church groups, who may be ethically opposed to the serving of liquor. The new law does not compel any institution to provide liquor in any circumstances.
The bill also includes some machinery amendments. One of those will ensure that it is an offence to make materially false or misleading statements in or to omit material from documents submitted or otherwise given to the Minister administering the liquor laws. Another amendment will remove doubt that certain liquor licences and certificates of registration are in force following changes made to the liquor laws arising from the abolition of liquor licence fees in 1997 at a Federal level. Finally, the bill will validate certain dine-or-drink authorities for which payment of fees was accepted by the Department of Gaming and Racing after the due date. We do not want to exclude those businesses. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Oakeshott.
[Mr Speaker left the chair at 10.55 a.m. The House resumed at 11.00 a.m.]