ACT bars offered kick-backs for early close

By Deborah Jackson, editor National Liquor News

The retail liquor industry has blasted the ACT Government, saying a further 25 per cent increase to already high licence fees is a “blatant cash grab” and “unacceptable”, while ACT bars have been offered financial kick-backs to close early.

This is the formal response to proposed huge hikes from the Australian Liquor Stores Association (ALSA) in its submission to the Government’s ‘Building on Liquor Reform: White Paper’.

To put it into perspective, the ACT already has the highest licence fees for retail liquor outlets of any Australian state or territory. In 2010, the standard licence fee for a retail liquor outlet in the ACT was $3055. If the current ACT Government proposal proceeds, this fee will rise to as much as $24,498, which is an increase of over 800 per cent in six years.

The Government’s reasoning behind the proposed hike is that it’s not a tax, but a ‘pre-loading payment’. Meanwhile, that same Government has said that small ACT bars with less than 80 patrons that close by midnight can have their licence fee cut by 75 per cent.

Adrien Murphy, owner of Jim Murphy Airport Cellars in the ACT, told TheShout the increase is “madness” and “doesn’t make any sense”.

Murphy, who currently pays $20,000 annually in licencing fees, stands to have that increased to $25,000 if the proposed increase passes. Meanwhile, stores in neighbouring NSW can obtain a licence for $510.

“The ACT Government is saying at the moment that if you’re drinking at a bar until 12am with 80 patrons or less, that everyone is going to go home because there is no pre-loading happening in this bar,” said Murphy.

“It doesn’t make any sense, I just can’t make any sense out of this judgment. It is madness,” he said.

According to the ALSA submission, if the increase goes ahead, there will be significant negative consequences for small businesses, including reduced customer service, and the vibrancy of Canberra as a destination for domestic and international tourists.

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