Yesterday we reported that the Victorian Liberal government had passed legislation that meant that the benefits and needs of live music will be now be taken into account in liquor licensing decisions. But hidden amongst the changes was the introduction of a new demerit point system that seeks to reward or punish venues based on a range of criteria.

The bill that would set what warrants demerit points is currently under consideration in parliament but part of the proposed law would be to have the perceived ‘negative’ effect a licensed venue has on the amenity of the area surrounding it as part of the demerit system. The broad nature of the definition of amenity has some venue operators up in arms at the governments decision to steamroll the new policy into law.

Peter Iwaniuk of the Nightclub Owners Forum, a body that represents licensed venues in Melbourne, says “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.”

Iwaniuk and the Nightclub Owners Forum recently put together a comprehensive discussion paper on the amenity of the Melbourne CBD. The paper contains a large amount of data collected by the government which up until now has been kept secret from the public. This data was made available after a request was made under the Freedom Of Information laws.

According to Mr Iwaniuk “These lists have enabled the Nightclub Owners Forum to undertake vital statistical analysis to highlight the true facts about Melbourne’s vibrant late night entertainment industry and inform research in the Discussion paper”.

The discussion paper is highly critical of the Baillieu Government for ignoring serious conflicts between planning law and the Liquor Act and for threatening the viability of Victoria’s hospitality industry by recently amending the definition of amenity in Liquor Act without consultation and buried in other legislative change.

It is these changes that have licensed venue operators around the state up in arms. The report also looks into the impact on the quality of amenity in Melbourne by poor public policy and the lack of investment in night time infrastructure by the Brumby and Baillieu Governments, including the recent late night taxi debacle.

Possibly the reason both the Brumby and Baillieu didn’t want you to see the report is that it accuses the government of being ignorant of the true elements of the ‘amenity’ of Melbourne in regards to City activity, population, visitor and tourism profiles, and not commissioning adequate research into this area.

The discussion paper highlights many interesting facts about Melbourne and their relevance to the amenity of Melbourne at night.

• The combined capacity of all of Melbourne’s pubs and clubs that trade past 1am is estimated to be around 60,000 persons roughly the same as the Crown Entertainment complex in its own right. The highlights the potential direct and indirect impact of Crown Casino on the amenity of the City

• 29% of international tourists and 19% of domestic tourists placed ‘pubs/clubs/discos’ within their top ten attractions in Melbourne. Interestingly, international tourists did not rate the Casino at all in their top ten attractions and it only scraped in at number 10 for domestic tourists with only an 8% rating. Clearly, visitors to Melbourne prefer socialisation and entertainment to gambling.

• Nearly 300,000 people visit the City on a weekend night according to estimates by the City of Melbourne. Given that the combined capacity of all of Melbourne’s pubs and clubs, and Crown Casino is around 120,000 it means that there are many people who visit Melbourne to wander the streets and hang around hot spots such as Flinders Street station. It also highlights the vulnerability of people trapped in the City because of the inadequacy of public transport.

• The median age of the City of Melbourne’s population is only 28

• 61% of the City of Melbourne’s population is in the 15 – 34 age bracket and this is the biggest growing age bracket. Between 2001 and 2006 this bracket increased by an astonishing 64%.

• Between 2001 and 2006 the City of Melbourne’s population in the 15 – 24 age bracket increased by over 50%

• The largest group of Melbourne residents is in the 21 – 25 age bracket (16,850 in 2006)

• The largest number of 16 – 20 year olds (4,670) and 21 – 25 year olds (5,550) live in the CBD

• 97% of young people up to the age of 25 are single

• 86% of young people up to the age of 25 live in rental accommodation.

• As the average household size for all ages is only 1.9 persons, this would indicate that many young people live alone.

The Nightclub Owners Forum is demanding that the government cease the current practice of police and compliance officers issuing infringement notices for so called breaches of amenity under the Liquor Act. At the same time they’d like the government to correct the anomalies between the Liquor Act and the Melbourne Planning Scheme in relation to noise and protect licensed premises that have existing use rights.

The existing use rights issue was one championed by Fair Go 4 Live Music a few years back and protects venues in the northern suburbs if they were using the premises and area prior to a complainant, such as residents from a new apartment building. These protections unfortunately do not cover the Melbourne CBD at the moment.

You can read the full discussion paper online on the Nightclub Owners Forum website.