The issue of liquor licensing in our CBD

The issue of liquor licensing in our CBD
Dr Stan Capp

In 2008 the state government introduced restrictions on the granting of 3am liquor licences to new venues unless it was of economic or cultural importance to the state and a Ministerial exemption was granted.

Even with this exemption, the licensing authority then must approve a licence for the venue, which also needs planning approval from the City of Melbourne.

A week before the state election in November 2022, the Premier announced that the 3am restriction would be lifted.

Previously, in July 2022, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation Melissa Horne committed to review this matter and advised, “that an evaluation will be conducted into the effectiveness of the freeze. This work will be managed by the Department of Justice and Community Safety and commence in late-2022, with finalisation prior to the guidelines lapsing on June 30, 2023”. The Minister assured us that the review would seek close involvement with key stakeholders but there are now serious doubts about whether such a review will occur.

It is surprising that this restriction, implemented in response to the need to address alcohol-related harm in inner Melbourne, is now considered by some to be redundant. The impact of later liquor licensing is well documented with escalated violence being a predictable outcome. This was the fundamental rationale for introducing the restriction in 2008.

For anyone who doubts the correlation between alcohol consumption and violence, Residents 3000 has listed a selection of well researched journal articles and these data cannot be easily dismissed. These 18 articles are listed here.

A common finding is that any increase in hours where alcohol is available will result in a measurable increase in violence.

Setting aside that as residents we obviously have an interest about our local amenity, as citizens and members of society we are also greatly concerned by the effects of alcohol on our community, safety on our streets, the devastating impact of sexual and domestic violence, the impacts on our health system, emergency services and the ensuing human suffering.

While there has been a range of reactions to this proposed policy change, the planning policy of the City of Melbourne is clear. Clause 22.22-1 of the Melbourne Planning Scheme states among several matters that licensed premises should be operated to ensure that noise emissions will not have an “unreasonable impact” on the amenity of the surrounding area.

Further, maximum patron numbers should be limited to manage any unreasonable impact on the amenity of the surrounding uses; and any extension of hours will not unreasonably impact on the amenity of the surrounding area.

The importance of this policy cannot be under-estimated as it is of enormous significance to residents. In short, any approval beyond 1am should not unreasonably impact the amenity of the surrounding area and this gives comfort to residents even if a 3am liquor licence is potentially possible.

A useful case study is the 2021 application to develop the “Job Warehouse” in the eastern end of Bourke St. After being granted a planning permit to 1am by the City of Melbourne, the developer sought a 3am planning permit thus making a later liquor licence more achievable as a Ministerial exemption had already been approved. The City of Melbourne and several residents defended the rights of maintaining amenity and had their views upheld by VCAT. Indeed, the VCAT members concluded that, “To allow the venue to operate beyond the hours supported by the planning policy, we would need to be satisfied that the proposal would not result in unreasonable impacts on the amenity of the area.  As based on the material before us we are not satisfied that this is the case, we have determined to affirm council’s decision and not amend the permit.” (VCAT Reference Number P377/2021).  The decision reinforced that unreasonable impacts on the amenity of the area was the primary consideration despite any potential ability to be granted a later liquor licence by the regulator.

This local government overview remains paramount, and the City of Melbourne must remain steadfast in its commitment to retaining the current Melbourne Planning Scheme and ensuring that there are no unreasonable impacts on resident amenity from any proposal. To deviate from this position would not only abrogate its responsibility to residents but would ignore the comprehensive research base that links later alcohol access with increased levels of violence in our community.

Residents 3000 and EastEnders are ready and willing to be part of the previously proposed review and engage with other stakeholders, including the City of Melbourne, to ensure our city remains safe and our amenity is protected.

Next Forum 3000

Join us at our next Forum 3000 meeting on Thursday, March 2 at 6pm, featuring interim CEO of City of Melbourne Alison Leighton. •


Dr Stan Capp is President of EastEnders and a member of the Residents 3000 Committee.

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