This week the Victorian Liberal Government has passed legislation that make reforms to the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 that attempts to juggle the demands of an angry live music community betrayed by the previous Labor Government and the demands of the conservative voters who handed them power.

The reforms mean the benefits and needs of live music will be taken into account in liquor licensing decisions.  The objects of the Liquor Control Reform Further Amendment Bill 2011 were amended to recognise “licensed hospitality and live music” in the Act.

But the amendments also introduces the controversial demerit points system for licensees that many see as a thinly veiled attempt to wrangle venues seen as problematic outside of the normal judicial process. Demerit points can be given to venues for a range of offenses including if police or liquor licensing officers determine that the venue is adversely affecting the amenity of the area it operates in.

Peter Iwaniuk of the Nightclub Owners Forum has indicated that the group will campaign strongly against the Government on this issue until common sense prevails.

“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,” he said.

The group are asking that the government 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. They also call from them to cease the current dubious practice of police and compliance officers issuing infringement notices for so called breaches of amenity under the Liquor Act.

But not everyone sees the new laws in such a negative light. Patrick Donovan from Music Victoria is over the moon with the changes made to the act saying “This is great news for live music in Victoria and brings us into line with other states.”

“The objects are the guiding principles of the Act, so it should ensure we don’t find ourselves in another dire situation which led to the SLAM rally, and it should also ensure that the interests of live music are taken into account in every decision.”

He continued “Music Victoria looks forward to working with licensees, the government and the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation on the soon–to-be-established Government Live Music Roundtable on issues such as the Agent of Change principle and the proposed re-classification of amenity in venues.”

The reform was a commitment made in the Live Music Agreement of October 2010, and was also a pre-election commitment made by the Baillieu Government after they saw the huge backlash against the ALP which culminated in 20,000 music lovers marching on Parliament house demanding changes to the laws.

The negotiations with the government were led by SLAM (Save Live Australia’s Music), Fair Go 4 Live Music and Music Victoria.

But the fight over the new laws has only just begun and the Nightclub Owners Forum has obtained a 79 page Discussion Paper on the Amenity of the Melbourne CBD which was hidden by both the Brumby and Baillieu Governments until the group obtained them under Freedom of Information.

“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,” said Peter Iwaniuk.

Tone Deaf will be publishing extracts from the report which is highly critical of the Victorian Governments approach tomorrow. James Young, the owner of iconic Melbourne venue Cherry Bar, recently wrote an opinion editorial outlining why venue operators are objecting to the law.

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