In Trade Restriction by Clyde Mooney

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The Department of Public Prosecutions has won its appeal for a conviction on the Steyne Hotel, sparing the perpetrators while adding to the pub’s penalties.

Steyne Hotel, Manly Corso

Arthur Laundy and a group of investors including John Singleton purchased the notorious Steyne in mid-2010.

At the time, it was near the top of the NSW list of violent venues and plans were put in place to target its poor reputation and the broad clientele that had ceased coming.

On a busy Saturday in September 2015, police detected four underage girls drinking in one of the bars. The Hotel was hit with breaches, and then licensee Stephen O’Sullivan went on to plead guilty in Court.

Magistrate Christopher Longley chose not to record a conviction on the venue, taking into account circumstances and the Hotel’s attempts to clean up the pub and the area. However, all staff on duty that night were cautioned and two bar staff that served the girls were each given a fine of $1100.

As per regulations by Liquor & Gaming (L&G NSW – formerly OLGR), the fines – whether paid or not – made the venue eligible for punishment under the Minor Sanctions Scheme.

L&G NSW laid down the law, electing to close the Steyne for seven days – Monday 4 July to Sunday 10 July. This, despite the owners installing a new licensee and dedicated compliance officer.

Under the Scheme, a venue can be subject to closure for up to 28 days, even for a first offence.

The pub had to cease trading for a full week, and staff and ancillary businesses were denied income. Laundy told PubTIC he was disappointed, to put it mildly.

“It will cost me $100k for the week. It’s absolutely ludicrous.”

But the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was not satisfied with the result, and challenged Magistrate Longley’s verdict in the District Court.

After a delay in early November, the hearing took place on Monday (5 December) and the ruling was overturned. The DPP’s appeal was upheld and the Steyne received a belated conviction for serving minors, plus fines of $5700.

The immediate consequence of this will be an additional $11,000 in licence fees in 2017, as per the Annual Liquor Licence Fee scheme, but devastatingly, it also means a mandatory Strike – as per the regulator’s controversial ‘Three Strikes’ scheme.

The Strike applies automatically due to the underage conviction, and dogmatically, denies the venue any right of appeal.

Responding to questioning by PubTIC, L&G NSW has confirmed that although a conviction for serving minors also makes a licensed venue eligible for a closure order, and that the Courts do have the power to suspend or cancel a liquor licence, the Steyne has already been punished for that aspect and “cannot receive another closure order as the penalty for this offence has already been determined”.

The specifics around what, if any, consequence befell the four underage girls, all now legally allowed to return to the Steyne, cannot be disclosed by the police.

However, a police media spokesperson told PubTIC “the young persons were dealt with under the Your Choice program”.

The ominous-sounding initiative seeks to “challenge perceptions about underage drinking and excessive consumption of alcohol and to educate young people about the health, legal and social consequences”. The offenders were most likely forced to participate in an “education seminar”.

Industry remains hopeful that mooted plan will proceed to modify the Three Strikes scheme to apply to the offending operator or licensee, rather than the bricks and mortar and potentially the hapless landlord. But in the meantime, the Steyne Hotel will receive its first Strike, to remain in place for the next three years.

The Australian Hotels Association NSW has worked to bring about the change to the Strike scheme, and reiterates the heavy-handedness of the decision on Manly’s Steyne – after already being forced to close for a week.

“Now, five months later, the hotel has been handed an additional and more serious sanction in the form of a Strike – for the same first offence.

“The severity of the penalty is grossly unfair for the offence committed,” declared AHA NSW director of Liquor and Policing, John Green.

PubTIC contacted Arthur Laundy for comment on the verdict, but he declined to comment, simply saying “I’m shattered”.

Group of young people having fun in club, celebration theme.