I seek leave to make an explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Regional Development on the subject of liquor licensing fees.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Yesterday the Minister for Business Services and Consumers released revised annual liquor licensing fees after what he had described as an 'overwhelmingly negative response' from industry. While it is a welcome reduction, licensed venues across the state will still be hit with another new tax by this incompetent government, and unfortunately regional venues are not exempt. In fact, regional venues will be forced to pay the same fees as their city counterparts despite not only having much lower costs of compliance and regulation but some could argue also providing great benefit to their communities.
Country pubs sponsor local sporting teams, offer wide-ranging employment and tourism opportunities and help to bind regional communities together. There are some 300 country pubs in South Australia, and more than 50 of them are up for sale and, according to an Advertiser report, eight of them have closed in the past three years. My questions for the minister are:
1. Can she explain how this new tax on licensed venues will promote regional development?
2. Why is it the responsibility of regional communities to pay for the policing of the West End of the city?
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Minister for Forests, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Tourism, Minister for the Status of Women) (14:27): I thank the honourable member for her most important questions. A new liquor licensing system has been put in place or is about to be put in place, and the minister responsible, the Hon. John Rau, announced some changes to those licensing fees yesterday. I note with interest that those changes were generally well received and supported and recorded in the media today.
The changes include the fee structure being more sensitive to those establishments that are smaller in size and also adding in an additional time span as well—I think there is 2am to 4am and then after 4am, or some such, rather than just 2am and onwards. We know that there are a whole range of issues around the serving and providing of alcohol. We know that there is a strong link between the number of licensed premises and the risk associated with harmful consumption of alcohol, and those facts are well documented.
We know that the abuse of alcohol is a huge cost to this community and is borne by all taxpayers, in effect. Some time ago when I was minister for liquor licensing I set up a review and sought to introduce this new fee structure, and the principle at the time behind this structure was, if you like, to pass on the costs of compliance and enforcement of liquor conditions and provisions to licensees rather than to taxpayers generally. I think that is a very sound position to be coming from. Country people are not expected to subsidise city drinkers at all. This fee is attached to licensed premises, and any place that is licensed to sell alcohol will be required to pay this licence fee. It is not surprising that the larger the venue the greater the potential for risk and the later a venue opens also the greater risk of alcohol abuse as well.
So, it is not surprising that these premises that want to take on these additional risks, open for longer and have larger crowds of people are being required to pay somewhat more. I would have to double check, but from my recollection of when I was minister for liquor licensing very few country or regional venues would have catered for crowds of over 200 people and very few venues—I could count them pretty much on one hand—opened after 2am. That may have changed since I was minister and I accept that those figures might not be accurate as of today, but I cannot imagine in my wildest dreams that there will be many country venues hit with that higher fee structure. I think that most will be paying either the basic fee structure or a middle-of-the-range fee.
This simply has the effect of shifting the cost of compliance and enforcement from taxpayers in general, many of whom do not drink at all—and you could ask the question: why should non-drinkers and other people who drink very sensibly incur the costs of those who are abusive? This is a new fee structure that focuses on licensed premises, and all licensed premises pretty much will be required to pay it. There are far more venues in the city and suburbs than there are out in the country, so it will be something that possibly hits city dwellers more than country people.