The South Australian government will be introducing new fees to venues with liquor licensing looking to stay open after 2am, that will come into effect as of the 1st of July, in response to alcohol-related violence in SA, particularly Adelaide’s metropolitan area.

Introducing a deadline for required payment on 29 June 2012, after which a late-fee penalty of 20% extra will be imposed, venues with a 200+ capacity will see an instantaneous $700 increase to their licensing fees, while venues trading after 2am must pay $5000; after 4am an additional $5000.

A number of venue and club owners are critiquing the move as a cash-grab by the government.

The owner of Adelaide nighclub Sugar, Driller ‘Jet’ Armstrong, is facing a stinging $5,700 under the new changes and has already come out in protest against the proposed bill, setting up a Facebook group and petition called ‘Stop The Unfair New Fee For Licenses‘ which is already 4,000 members strong.

InTheMix interviewed Armstrong about the proposed government levys, which he considers an unjust move. “We only got the letter last week that said you can reduce your fee by changing your license conditions,” he says.

“what actually happened is the Government tried to get this legislation through to close all venues by 3am, but they didn’t have the numbers. They failed to get there. They have gone back to their offices and said, ‘Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.’ So they’ve brought this legislation out through the licensing act.”

Although the government were unsuccessful to change the bill to place a curfew on venue’s like Sugar, the pricing of the new taxes are so large, they effectively ensure the same results. That smaller venues, like Armstrong’s will be unable to operate at later hours without fronting the necessary cash to do so.

“Businesses are really struggling right now…” explains Armstrong, “we’re an underground venue. We’ll be the first to go because we don’t compromise really.”

The consequences of these new charges has an obvious knock-on effect to the live music scene. While gigs don’t necessarily go past 2am, DJs certainly operate within these hours. Armstrong’s sentiment concurs “We don’t turn the venue into a disgusting R&B club with cheesy drinks for a dollar. We do most of our business between 12 and 4am; perhaps between 3 and 4am to be more precise. People come to us late to dance.”

It’s also an inconsiderate time to introduce the bill against a backdrop of a live scene that is already hurting from nation-wide closures. Adelaide is no different, having recently lost live music venues like The Jade Monkey and Two Ships to local developers.

Fair or not, these new liquor licensing fees are a backward step for a town that is already tainted as being backward, nor does it foster a diverse music scene – which in turn would encourage more international acts to extend their tours to South Australia.

Armstrong’s biggest concern, is that these new changes to venue licensing will lead to nation-wide restructuring. “This could be the tip of the iceberg” he cautioned, “it’s a knee-jerk reaction to binge-drinking on the streets; to violence caused by that.”

But Armstrong believes that the government and police are taking the wrong approach, “responsible venues doing the right thing are just going to be lumped in with everyone else. This is a sneaky, underhanded, blanket approach to a problem.”

“Target the venues that are being irresponsible,” he concedes, “but don’t ruin it for the adults. It’s happened in Brisbane. There’s this other thing of everyone having to use plastic cups. If some fuckhead drives like an idiot on the road, do they take everyone’s drivers license away?”

He’s not alone, many of the 4000 strong members of his Facebook group agree with opposing the new legislation.

Member Luke Emblem asks, “why must the governing bodies constantly try and retard the progress and in this case disable adelaide’s appeal to the youth and in Sugar’s case any human that feels like a dance in an environment that nurtures creativity, live music and essentially saves the city from all out failure.”

While one Craig Flanigan points out ” Anyone familiar with the club scene in Adelaide knows the peak times are 12-3am, and am staggered that after being defeated over the equally ill advised 3am curfew, that such a backdoor method was used to effectively achieve the same aim of cutailing [sic] the night life of this great city, and further alienate the young adult population.”

Similar onerous licensing conditions and fees put on music venues in Melbourne led to the tinder box that exploded on news that The Tote Hotel would be shutting up shop.

The community backlash eventually gave birth to SLAM and the SLAM Rally, which was more than 20,000 music lovers take to the street and demand the state government do more to protect our fragile local music scene and the venues that support it.

The Victorian state government was later turfed out at the election later that year, something perhaps their South Australian counterparts should take note of.

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