The fight between the Victorian Government and music venue operators in the state over liquor licensing is heating up with Jon Perring, owner of iconic venue The Tote which served as a lightning rod for the SLAM Rally last year, writing an open letter to the Victorian Minister for Consumer Affairs urging the government to reconsider some of their strategy to combat licensing issues.

The shit storm began after the Victorian Liberal Government passed legislation in the twilight of 2011 that made reforms to the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998  that ensure the benefits and needs of live music will be taken into account in liquor licensing decisions. However hidden amongst the changes, which were part of the live music accord the Liberal Party signed up as part of an election pledge, was the framework for the setup of a ‘demerit point’ system for licensed venues.

The actions that can lead to a venue being penalised under the new system have far reaching and broad definitions that some venue operators see as a thinly veiled attempt by the government to expand it’s powers to silence ‘problem’ venues swiftly and quietly. The issue of the definition of ‘amenity’ has also been highly criticised.

Peter Iwaniuk of the Nightclub Owners Forum, a body that represents licensed venues in Melbourne, told media after the legislation was passed that “it is absolutely ludicrous that, under the recently added Section 3AA of the Liquor Act, incidents inside a licensed premises including swearing, littering and vandalism can be deemed to affect the amenity of the area outside a licensed premises and can be grounds for police to issue an infringement notice against a licensee.”

The Nightclub Owners Forum recently released a report, influenced by data obtained through Freedom Of Information, that is highly critical of the current state government’s policy towards liquor licensing. You can read more about the report here.

Read below for the open letter written by Jon Perring.

Dear Minister,

I would like to thank you for delivering on one of the commitments that the Victorian Government made under the Live Music Accord, in the recent amendment to the Liquor Control Reform Further Amendment Bill 2011, to include consideration of the needs of Live Music in licensing decisions as one the key Objects of the Act.

I would like to also remind you that consideration was also required of an order of occupancy provision (the Agent of Change principle as recommended by the Victorian Government’s Live Music Task Force report).

This principle should be introduced into the Victoria Planning Provisions so that it has statutory weight in planning and liquor licensing decisions.

Since the election of the Baillieu Government there has been no progress or even a forum convened to discuss this matter. While there is a commitment to convening the Premier’s Round Table in the near future, where this and other matters may be discussed, a firm date or agenda has not been set.

Your Government is considering an amendment (3AA) in regard to extending and defining amenity breaches in the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998. We believe that this is putting the cart before the horse, and that the amendment will cement what is currently an unacceptable situation in regards to the rights of licensed venues in amenity disputes.