ABOVE: Patrons at Monte’s for the recent launch of Revolution Day by the Super Raelene Brothers.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
Booze kills one in 10 people dying in the Northern Territory which, by a factor of three, has Australia’s highest proportion of all deaths related to alcohol, according to a report just released.
The Foundation for Alcohol Research says the nation’s figure is 3.9% and the states range from SA (3.3%) to WA (4.7%).
The Territory figure is 11.8%.
You’d assume that this life-and-death issue would have the undivided attention of the NT Licensing Commission.
You’d be wrong.
The commission carried out an investigation into Monte’s Lounge; inspectors visited the venue on five days between June 2 and September 7 last year; the commission considered a complaint from Director of Licensing Karen Avery; it conducted a hearing, questioned witnesses, pondered a decision and issued a 12-page document entitled Reasons for Decision, dealing with questions including the following:-
• Were patrons of Monte’s Lounge sitting down or standing up when they were having a drink?
• Were they dancing?
• Was a BBQ being used and were hot dogs for sale?
Monte’s is in the CBD, not in a residential area. There are residences some distance away but not in the immediate vicinity.
There were two complaints, says the document. The complainants are not named. Monte’s “nominee and proprietor” Matt Mulga is named in the public document.
Monte’s, to judge by the crowd frequenting it, is highly popular, clearly a very convincing expression of the public’s view which the commission is obliged to have account of.
By contrast the Town & Country and Bojangles up the road are both closed, and the Memo Club is just re-opening after being closed for more than two years.
Mr Mulga told the commission:-
• There had been no neighbourhood complaint in the last one and a half years.
• He had not had minors nor served minors on the premises.
• He had not sold alcohol to an intoxicated patron.
These assertions were not contested.
The government’s noise monitoring officer, Peter Bannister, seems to have hit the nail on the head when he told the commission: “I really think that we should act on complaints only. Some people do not mind the disturbance and others abhor it. At least Matt Mulga has given the main complainant in those nearby flats his phone number.”
Monte’s has a noise control device. At a specified high sound or decibel level, a light shows red following which power is cut and then must be reset for music to be broadcast.
Allegations that the device at times was switched off or faulty were partly admitted, partly contested.
“In relation to noise and the operation of the sound control device contraventions the Commission finds the evidence presented to be inconclusive on some of the nights in question. There is little doubt however that there was contravention of the noise and entertainment condition, as admitted by Mr Mulga, on the night of 27 July 2013,” the commission found.
It accepts that “the objects of the Act which identify as the primary purpose the minimisation of harm associated with the consumption of liquor, noting there has been no identified harm.”
Yet there were government inspectors snooping on people engaged in harmless fun, obtaining video footage, and making observations such as “large numbers of patrons standing, in contravention to the requirement for patrons to be seated … video footage taken at the time which showed cabaret performers on the stage and people standing and walking around with drinks … allowing a dance floor to operate at the front of the venue … patrons not eating or seated at tables.
And: Video footage taken after 2am was viewed which showed people standing around, some with drinks while some other patrons were on the dance floor. Inspector Cassidy submitted to the Commission that the video footage confirmed that people were not seated and that the premise did not have the appearance of a restaurant.
And: Patrons were standing in the forecourt … the dance floor was operational.
Should people be allowed to dance? This is what the commission thinks: “A literal interpretation of the licence conditions may interpret the activity of dancing as not consistent with the ‘appearance of a restaurant’ licence condition. However, complicating this is the statement by Inspector Wade to the effect that it is OK for patrons at Monte’s to dance, assuming they return to their seats afterwards.”
The commission says: “The success of Monte’s Lounge innovative approach is being achieved at a time when the tourism and domestic market is at a low point and a large proportion of Alice Springs licensed premises are facing patronage and related fiscal challenges.
“It should also be noted that the Monte’s brand contrasts to the ‘swill until there is a blue’ atmosphere that some other premises in the past may have tolerated or allowed.”
That, surely raises the question: is it not time for the grog controllers to focus on the real issues?
Mr Mulga was fined $2500.