Licensing Commission cites Briscoe Inquest findings on excessive alcohol consumption in Alice Springs
By KIERAN FINNANE
Gapview Hotel has been knocked back for a second time on a request to vary its take-away trading hours during the Masters Games. The Licensing Commission (three members) confirmed the September 17 decision by Chairman Richard O’Sullivan. In its reasons Presiding member Jane Large cited the Coroner’s findings in the Briscoe Inquest that “a long term solution to excessive alcohol consumption in Alice Springs requires greater cooperation amongst stakeholders (including outlets that sell alcohol)” and his recommendation that “the NT Government convenes an urgent meeting with stakeholders …and commits to all available, reasonable measures to reduce the supply of excess alcohol from takeaway outlets.”
As we all know, a first meeting on the issues, convened by Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Central Australia, Robyn Lambley, has now taken place.
The Commission expressed its view that “the potential risk to community amenity, social harmony and well-being” outweighed “the inconvenience encountered by visitors and contestants to the Masters Games wishing to purchase takeaway alcohol”.
Licensee Ray Loechel had suggested that the variation “would be a great way to trial extended trading hours and gauge any effects that it may have”. The Commission did not agree: “Eight days of extended takeaway trading is insufficient time to provide any meaningful data and information to allow a proper analysis and evaluation of the Alcohol Supply Restrictions in Alice Springs.”
While Gapview did not intend to advertise the extended hours, they accepted that people other than Masters Games participants would be able to take advantage of them.
In its reasons for decision, the Commission also affirmed the existing restrictions regime: “The original imposition of the restricted hours for takeaway alcohol in Alice Springs followed extensive consultation with community members, government agencies and the Council. The outcome of these consultations was a strong commitment to not only reducing the hours of takeaway but also to a later commencement time.
“The reviews undertaken on these measures by both the Menzies School of Health Research and the Northern Territory Licensing Commission involved further detailed consultation and then a recommendation that the current measures be maintained. No community consultation has been undertaken on this application [Gapview’s] and time now precludes it happening.
“However, the Commission has comment on the application from two government agencies which encounter the results of excessive alcohol consumption in Alice Springs. The Department of Heath does not support the application. The Northern [Territory] Police response is brief and refers to monitoring of Social Order issues which indicates some concern as to these issues.”
Another recent decision by the Commission (single member) has relevance to the issues of take-away versus on-premise drinking and to the idea of ‘wet canteens’ on Aboriginal communities. The Commission dismissed the objection of a Department of Health officer to an application to vary the licence of the Wuduluk Progress Aboriginal Corporation to sell alcohol at the Beswick Community Store.
The NT Police did not object to the application and the Roper Gulf Shire did not respond.
Beswick is an Aboriginal community in the Top End, about one and a half hours’ drive south-east of Katherine. The store is managed on behalf of the corporation by Steve Moore of Outback Stores. The variation seeks to remove the take-away license but authorise an on-premise licence for drinking in a beer garden attached to the store.
Senior Policy Advisor with the Alcohol and Other Drugs Program, Department of Health, Neil Wright, was concerned about how the store would manage and control on-premise consumption and with the amounts currently authorised for sale to individuals being excessive given the limited hours for authorised trade.
Mr Moore told the Commission that in fact all alcohol sold is already consumed on-premise in line with the wishes of the Beswick community. He said the Social Club ensured that food was available to patrons at all times that alcohol was sold and that sufficient security personnel were engaged during trading hours. In addition, limitations on the amount of alcohol that could be sold to an individual were enforced and patrons are only permitted to purchase one can of alcohol at a
Since the Federal Intervention the trading hours have been limited to 4.30 to 6.30 pm on Wednesdays and 4.30 to 7.00 pm on Fridays with no trading on Saturdays. Management has implemented measures that require all patrons to undergo breath analysis and return a reading of less that 0.05% BAC prior to being admitted to the premises. The present application does not seek to vary the limitations currently in place in respect of amounts or hours of trade.
In its reasons, the Commission states its preference for on-premise drinking over take-away sales: “From a Commission perspective, on-premise consumption of alcohol in circumstances where a patron’s behaviour and level of intoxication are able to be monitored by staff and security personnel is preferable to take away sales where the patron is able to consume the alcohol in an uncontrolled and
“The Commission, together with various other bodies involved in the regulation of alcohol sales, has noted consistently and regularly that whilst there are issues with the regulated sale of alcohol for on premise consumption the greater level of alcohol related harm is generated from take away sales.”