Pubs face agonising trading choice

 

TOUGH CHOICE

They have already endured a year from hell.

Now plenty of hospitality operators across Brisbane and the rest of the state will be forced to make a choice certain to put a further squeeze on their business.

Do they apply for extended late night trading hours to cater for the Bledisloe Cup at Suncorp Stadium on November 7?

Or do they seek the extension for the potential decider, Game 3 in the State of Origin series, at the same venue on November 18?

Ben Hunt poses for a photo during a Queensland Maroons State of Origin training session at Cbus Super Stadium on October 27, 2020.
Ben Hunt poses for a photo during a Queensland Maroons State of Origin training session at Cbus Super Stadium on October 27, 2020.

Incredibly, they can't do both under current laws, which were introduced in 2017.

The games were delayed, of course, because of the pandemic and, for the first time as far as we know, will be played in the same month.

Although pub and club owners had no control over the sporting event scheduling, existing legislation says they can only apply for six "special occasion'' permits per calendar year.

Crucially, these permits for 12am to 5am trading cannot be issued more than once a month.

APPEAL REJECTED

The dilemma over which game to choose is particularly acute for traders on Caxton Street, including Gambaro's, Brewski and Lefty's Music Hall.

Obviously they would love to welcome post-game revellers into the wee hours on both dates.

Making matters worse, it's understood that an appeal for leniency with the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation has just been knocked back.

Queensland Hotels Association boss Bernie Hogan told City Beat on Tuesday that the dilemma facing publicans was "very difficult''.

Queensland Hotels Association boss Bernie Hogan.
Queensland Hotels Association boss Bernie Hogan.

"It does seem to be pretty heavy-handed when they've just had three months off (because of COVID-19) and then to tell them they can't stay open late for one of these big events,'' he said.

"It's one of those issues that sting you in a year that's been so disjointed already.''

While the government is in caretaker mode for the election, we nonetheless asked a Liquor and Gaming spin doctor about the failed appeal and what public benefit flowed from curtailing the trade of publicans.

She didn't respond to those queries but noted that the Commissioner has "no discretion'' legally to amend the laws.

NEED FOR REFORM

Hospitality players told your diarist that the unpalatable choice now confronting venue owners is grimly ironic given how many other rules were relaxed at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, particularly the right of restaurants to sell limited quantities of takeaway alcohol.

One of them described it as "an impossible choice…all because of another kneejerk change to the laws by Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath when Labor reduced trading hours for venues yet again''.

Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath.
Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath.

Compounding the problems, these critics allege, is a Liquor and Gaming bureaucracy without an adequate background in the hospitality sector.

In a larger sense, they said the issue over late-night trading permits provides further evidence that a new Liquor Act is long overdue and a regulatory shake-up is also desperately needed.

"There is a widely held view within the liquor and tourism industries that the Andrew Fraser-era 'trial' of merging liquor and gaming regulation in Queensland has proven to be an abject failure,'' a well-placed source said.

"Whatever party wins this weekend should ensure immediate machinery of government changes that return liquor regulation back to the tourism portfolio, return gaming back to Treasury to collect taxes and return Fair Trading back to a small business portfolio, which itself must be a priority of any newly elected Queensland Government.


"Only by breaking up the anti-industry culture that exists in the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation senior management that has festered for over a decade can the hospitality and tourism industries of Queensland start working with a new Government on a viable path forward.''

Originally published as Pubs face agonising trading choice



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