Residents support our city but feel ignored
More than 70 locals attended a forum hosted by CBD residents’ group Residents 3000 on May 11, as local MPs and leaders from the City of Melbourne participated in discussions surrounding the state government’s decision to end the freeze on 1am liquor licensing.
Victorian Upper House members for the Northern Metropolitan Region – leader of the Victorian Greens Dr Samantha Ratnam and the Liberal Party’s Evan Mulholland – spoke about the key issues they were hearing and their current priorities. Notably, no Labor members of parliament accepted the invitation to attend.
While Melbourne MP Ellen Sandell had some personal issues to deal with and could not attend, the forum’s chair Dr Stan Capp read a detailed statement from her that emphasised the need for Melbourne to “build back better” and identified her vision around such matters as regulating short stay accommodation, investing more in the arts, and good quality affordable apartments.
Also among Ms Sandell’s priorities were addressing the homelessness crisis and fixing the “ridiculous” voting system that is prejudiced against residents.
All speakers highlighted the need to listen to residents and consult on matters that affect them. Planning and the lifting of the 3am curfew on liquor licenses were two examples.
Lord Mayor of Melbourne Sally Capp and the chair of Melbourne’s night-time economy advisory committee Penny Miles joined the MPs in a discussion about the lifting of the curfew on allocating 3am liquor licenses – a matter highly relevant to Residents 3000.
The context for the discussion is that six days before the state election in 2022, the Premier Daniel Andrews declared that the ban on 3am liquor licenses would expire on June 30, 2023. The Premier made no mention of a review or an evaluation of the effectiveness of the curfew even though this is what the community had a written commitment from the Minister to undertake.
The freeze policy has been in place since 2008 and is administered through Ministerial Guidelines issues by the Minister for Gaming, Casino and Liquor Regulation.
On June 29, 2021, Minister Melissa Horne issued new guidelines extending the freeze until June 30, 2023 and announced that an evaluation would be conducted into the effectiveness of the freeze. This would begin in late 2022, with finalisation prior to the guidelines lapsing on June 30, 2023.
Since 2008, the freeze has been extended several times with the last extension being made in June 2021. Significant changes were made to the freeze guidelines in 2015. In 2019 and 2021 further exemptions from the freeze were made to permit new applications relating to live music venues, major events, and cultural events.
Prior to the current guidelines expiring, it was expected that the minister would be informed by the review and then consider whether to issue new guidelines, as has been done on at least three occasions since 2008.
The Victorian Government is only now consulting with key stakeholders and the wider community to identify views on the freeze policy and whether any alternatives should be proposed to the policy that will address the harms associated with late-night alcohol use and abuse while also supporting the night-time economy and live music sector.
However, the decision to lift the curfew is now regarded as an election commitment and there is little doubt that the curfew will be lifted. CBD News sent questions to the Premier’s office regarding the consultation process but didn’t receive a response.
Dr Capp anticipated that the review would confirm what the literature corroborates, which is that larger venues closing after 1am correlate with an exponential growth in violence on the streets, anti-social behaviour, attendances in emergency departments and increased domestic violence.
Dr Capp proposed that:
- New guidelines be drafted that the minister can sign off for effect July 1, 2023;
- The guidelines should include the requirement for new liquor licenses to only be awarded when there are no unreasonable effects on local amenity;
- Base line data points need to be articulated e.g., street assault; transfers to hospital ED; domestic violence incidence; number of reported incidents; community complaints; etc.; and
- A hot line be established where community can register complaints.
Another highlight of the evening was a presentation by Residents 3000 member Yvonne Singer who displayed her expertise in research by demonstrating the human effects of late-night alcohol consumption.
The council has asked for the decision guidelines used by Liquor Control Victoria for 3am licences to be written into the planning scheme, and the introduction of a clear definition of noise sensitive areas.
It has also recommended amending wording in the planning scheme (e.g. changing the word “tavern” to “bar”) so that it is consistent and simpler for everyone to understand.
The Lord Mayor was warmly received with her insightful and astute commentary on the lifting of the 3am liquor license and challenged everyone to identify key initiatives that could be taken moving forward.
“As a council we have a responsibility to represent and balance between safety and amenity for our residents while maintaining a vibrant night-time economy,” Cr Capp told CBD News.
“We continue to work with the state government to help find this balance as the 15-year freeze on new late-night liquor licences ends. We’re asking for some simple, sensible changes to the planning scheme to ensure our policy for new bars, clubs, restaurants, and other venues works better for everyone.”
“We know people love living in the city for myriad reasons – the convenience, the culture, and the community. In the past decade, the residential population of the CBD and Docklands has more than doubled.”
But Cr Capp added that, “similarly, our night-time economy is booming”.
“Last year, our city’s bars, nightclubs, restaurants and entertainment businesses contributed more than $3.3 billion to the local economy, supporting more than 31,000 jobs – a 15 per cent increase on June 2019.”
We are committed to finding a balance that benefits our central entertainment district, and the metropolis lifestyle that makes us Australia’s most liveable city.
Likewise, Penny Miles emphasis on balance also recognised that residents, as well as live venues, can co-exist with the appropriate safeguards in place.
Having the two MPs present shone a light on how bi-partisan approaches can yield positive outcomes and the perspectives of both demonstrated some important values and shared recognition of the need to consult with community members in a range of matters, including the lifting of the 3am curfew.
Many comments were received from those present with the overwhelming view being that while a revitalisation of the city was welcomed, an alcohol fuelled recovery was the wrong public policy response.
President of Residents 3000 Rafael Camillo was highly appreciative of the contributions made by the guest speakers, saying that he hoped that it could become a regular part of the group’s program to have topical matters discussed by elected representatives, the Lord Mayor and other important stakeholders.
He also expressed the hope that the Victorian Government could also participate in the discussion as its lack of engagement was the one disappointing aspect of the event. •
For more information and resources on this issue, visit the Residents 3000 website.