After nine years and industry pressure, the liquor watchdog will be conducting a review into the special conditions on 15 venues known as the ‘Newcastle solution’.
The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority (ILGA) has announced the review and submission process, to be conducted by barrister Jonathan Horton QC.
The process will look at the range of conditions applied to Newcastle CBD venues in 2008, which mandated 1:00 or 1:30am lockouts, and 3:00 or 3:30am closure times, as well as drink restrictions from 10pm, such as bans on shots and doubles and a limit of four drinks per customer.
The restrictions and curfew were implemented in an attempt to target alcohol-related issues including violence and disturbance, both in and outside of venues.
Wanting the same outcome, operators went further to introduce ID scanners with image capture of patrons as they enter.
Like other blanket conditions, they have transformed many aspects of hospitality in the precinct, caused many closures and changes of ownership – often at brutal losses – and brought considerable hardship on all venues involved.
Assault figures for Newcastle versus the rest of the State show mixed results but largely the same trend of continual fall in incidents of non-domestic assault.
Publicans report that today’s Newcastle is thriving, at least in part due to the State government’s investment in infrastructure such as the new light rail.
And hotels continue to embrace the use of the ID scanners, making patrons easily identifiable with the combination of identification and their photo taken upon entry.
“It is truly making people responsible for their actions,” says Stephen Hunt, owner of the CBD Hotel, one of those still carrying restrictions. “The photos work really for us.”
Hunt is not against keeping the lockout and closure times, but welcomes the review on measures such as restrictions on standard cocktails.
“The fact that they’re even considering it is great. I’ve never seen someone drinking a margarita then turn around and get violent.
“I’m really excited; Newcastle’s really belting along.”
Liquor & Gaming promises consultation with industry, community groups and the police, and credits the submission by the AHA that prompted the review, suggested under terms of the Liquor Act.
“The review follows a request to ILGA by the Australian Hotels Association on behalf of the 15 venues to consider revoking or changing some of the conditions,” notes ILGA chair Philip Crawford.
“This is timely considering the conditions have been in place for nine years and Newcastle’s CBD has changed considerably in this time.
“This review will be guided by evidence and community feedback. We encourage everyone with a view to express it in writing.”
The AHA will continue involvement in the process, which it believes is due.
“Newcastle has changed considerably over the past decade and it’s appropriate these special conditions are now reviewed,” replied a spokesperson. “The AHA NSW will be making a submission to the ILGA Review.”
The AHA’s original correspondence to ILGA noted the State’s advancements in the regulation of licensed venues, pertinently the Three Strikes Scheme, since revised again, the Violent Venues Scheme, and the escalating Licence Fees Scheme.
The Association’s argument was in favour of the following changes to the Newcastle conditions:
Suggestion to be revoked, as outdated
- Shared radio network
- Plan of management audits
Suggestion to vary, in line with other jurisdictions
- Drink restrictions from 10pm to instead commence from midnight
- Drink restriction quantities: an adaption of Sydney CBD ‘cocktail list’ for cocktails, martinis, single nips and other drinks not designed so as to promote rapid consumption or intoxication
- Introduction of the ability to apply for exemptions