WA Government tables liquor law reforms

21 February, 2018 by Andy Young

The Western Australian Government has put forward its Liquor Control Amendment Bill 2018, which details significant changes for the state’s liquor laws.

And while there are many positive changes for the state’s on-premise sector, which have been widely welcomed, the Bill also proposes restricting the floor space of new bottleshops in areas where there are already a number of liquor stores.

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Peter Peck, the CEO of the Liquor Stores Association WA, told TheShout that the new proposals are not about introducing a blanket ban on the size of new bottleshops but, more that it was about preventing big box stores opening in an area where the consumer need has already been met.

“The important part of this legislation is that it is not retrospective, but it meant that in the future if the need of an area was met then you could put a large liquor store in that area, to oversupply that area.

“The legislation in its current form doesn’t stop a big box store from opening, it just says if there is enough supply in that market then we don’t need any more there. But if you want to build a big box store in an area where there is no other stores around you, the legislation allows for that.

“From the perspective that where you have eight small businesses operating in an area, the government didn’t want a larger business coming in and cannibalising those small businesses. To a lot of our members that was the icing on the cake for them and it ensures there is a future for them.”

He added: “We have to support a responsible and sustainable industry and so far our members are largely supportive of this legislation. As it sits at the moment the legislation is common sense and it’s the most sensible piece of legislation I’ve seen in years.

“This is not like the Northern Territory where they proposed a blanket ban on stores of a certain size. There is no ban on liquor stores, there is just a process for stores to be approved.”

However, Giuseppe Minissale, the President of the Australian Liquor Stores Association (ALSA), told TheShout that he believed this was anti-competitive legislation and that he could not understand why the liquor industry and packaged liquor licensees were being singled out when other retail industries were free to open stores of any size.

“In any competitive market, whether it be furniture or hardware they are free to open stores of any size, but when it comes to the liquor industry they want to put in restrictions,” Minissale said.

“There is absolutely no evidence that says the size of a store makes any difference when it comes to selling alcohol in relation to harm. As an independent retailer if I wanted to build a 500sqm store I would be restricted, but Bunnings can go and build a super-size warehouse store right next to a small hardware shop.

“Why is it good for one sector and not the other?”

Shane Tremble, General Manager of Corporate Services for Endeavour Drinks Group, agreed that there is no evidence to support the proposal to limit floor size.

“We strongly support the Western Australian Government’s vision to reform licensing laws to create a more modern and vibrant hospitality sector, but it makes no sense for the Government to create diversity in the on-premise sector with liberalising reforms, while allegedly taking it away in the off-premise sector with greater restrictions,” he told TheShout.

“Claims that limiting store size or location will increase diversity are unfounded, not backed by any credible evidence, and clearly fail the pub test.”

“The growth of Dan Murphy’s in other States has led to greater competition and innovation in packaged liquor offers, all to the customers benefit. This has happened more slowly in Western Australia because the state maintains one of the most restrictive and complex licensing regimes in the world. If the Government wants greater diversity in packaged liquor, it should look at liberalising the existing laws which prevent new entrants into the market and restrict competition.”

He added: “We urge the Western Australian Government to reconsider such proposals which have not undergone any consultation and are clearly against the interests of their constituents and are unsupported by any credible evidence.”

When questioned, Endeavour confirmed information provided to TheShout by industry sources that they have resigned their LSA WA membership.

Chris O’Brien the General Manager of Liquor Barons told TheShout that he supports reforms that would help small business.

“We need to be clear at this point that this is not a done deal, this is in front of Parliament and some debate still to happen. However I think that any reform that supports diversity and small business and affects harm minimisation can only be positive for our industry.”

Bradley Woods the CEO of the Australian Hotels Association WA also welcomed the Bill, but did acknowledge that there were some “contentious matters” for the industry as a whole.

“Western Australia’s hotels, bars, pubs, taverns and restaurants will be the beneficiary of these important and long overdue reforms,” Woods said.

“We are pleased that the Government has recognised the importance of the hospitality sector to employment opportunities and the WA economy, which is reflected in this Bill.”

“For the first time the economic value of the hospitality and tourism industry will be recognised when assessing liquor applications – finally there is a formal appreciation of hospitality and tourism and the important role this plays in respect to job creation.”

“While there are many positive initiatives, the Bill contains some contentious matters which will divide sections of the industry, in particular the restriction on new liquor stores and bottle shops over 400 square metres.”

Woods said the AHA will be closely examining how the reforms will be implemented to ensure their intended benefits are realised.

“There are a number of important issues that are ongoing, in particular the need to address the serious and escalating risks posed by the abuse of occasional permits to operate large pop-up venues.”

“We look forward to continuing constructive and cooperative discussions with the State Government so that we can further support the growth of WA’s hospitality businesses and the tens of thousands of workers who rely on the health and growth of our sector.”