The Victorian Government has prioritised industry and pubs and clubs at the expense of community safety by relaxing five of the key parts of the late-night freeze laws across inner city areas, according to leading health and allied agencies.
The agencies, part of the Alcohol Policy Coalition (APC), have warned that Victoria risks leaving a legacy of harm for future generations by constantly putting industry profits ahead of the well-being and safety of the community.
The changes were announced at the weekend as an extension to the existing freeze on new late-night liquor licences across Melbourne, Stonnington, Port Phillip and Yarra until 2021. The freeze was first introduced in 2008 in response to unacceptable levels of alcohol-related harm and crime in inner city suburbs.
However, APC warns that with the extension the government has announced a range of changes that weaken existing measures including:
- Live music venues of capacity of up to 500 will be exempt (up from 200)
- New Year’s Eve will be exempt
- Local councils will lose their power of veto over late night applications in the affected areas
- Events of ‘major’ economic significance to Victoria will be exempt
- Venues broadcasting major international sporting events will be exempt
Alcohol Policy Coalition spokesman Mark Zirnsak, Senior Social Justice Advocate of Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, at the Uniting Church in Australia, said at a time when we should be strengthening the community’s say in the availability of alcoholic products and reducing the pervasive nature of the drug across the community, the government was making it easier to push out alcohol at times where there is a much greater risk of harm.
“Victoria is already saturated with outlets selling alcohol,” he said.
“We know the sale of alcoholic products is responsible for the deaths of more than 5,039 Australians every year, and that 36,974 Victorians were admitted to hospital as a result of drinking alcohol in 2016/17and yet instead of tightening liquor control laws, the Victorian Government is relaxing them.”
Mr Zirnsak said at the very least local councils should retain the right to veto late night applications in their areas.
“Local governments are best placed to understand the direct harms associated with alcohol businesses within their zones, and yet they’re being shut out of the decision-making loop, this is disgraceful,” he said.
“The Andrews Government states they have extended the freeze to control the ‘density of liquor licences and associated harms’ but then has made it easier for venues to get late-night licences by adding so many exemptions and removing the checks and balances provided by local communities at the coalface.”
“It’s time the Andrews government took the harms caused by alcohol businesses more seriously and started addressing this insidious problem with real policy measures that allow the community to put their health and safety at the forefront of how and where alcohol businesses operate in Victoria.”
The Alcohol Policy Coalition is a collaboration of health and allied agencies who share a concern about the level of alcohol misuse and the associated health and social consequences for the community. The Alcohol Policy Coalition develops and promotes evidence-based policy responses that are known to be effective in preventing and reducing alcohol related problems.
The members of the Alcohol Policy Coalition are:
- Australasian College of Emergency Medicine (ACEM)
- Alcohol and Drug Foundation
- Cancer Council Victoria
- Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, La Trobe University
- Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education
- Jewish Community Council of Victoria
- Public Health Association of Australia
- Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
- St Vincent’s Health Australia
- The Salvation Army
- Turning Point
- Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association
- Violence Prevention Group, School of Psychology, Deakin University
- Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.