I rise today to speak about an issue which is a continual source of frustration for me and those involved in the hospitality industry. I speak about the Licensing Enforcement Branch. I have a tremendous respect for the South Australian police force and what our men and women in blue do on a daily basis, often putting themselves in harm's way to keep us safe.
My gripe is not with the police, but it is with this Labor government whose priorities are clearly misplaced. It does not seem to matter what the policy prescription is when it comes to cracking down on liquor licensing and its culture. Law abiding people are usually unfairly affected. This is the case for lockouts, licence breaches and even the proposed breath testing of staff. The problem lies with the government's approach. It is placing the blame for the poor behaviour of patrons on the licensee, rather than on the individual misbehaving. Whilst I believe that drunk patrons should not be served as a principle of responsible service, the determination of what constitutes a drunk patron is not an exact science.
Does the person have to be visibly affected, violent or obnoxious, or should it be based on measured consumption? The point is that it is a judgement call, which leads to inconsistency; and because there is no objective test, how then can staff and licensees be fairly prosecuted for breaching the terms of a licence? And what about the mix of drugs and alcohol? This is an issue that this government is actually hiding from.
An example of this government's heavy-handedness was the prosecution of the Clare Valley Racing Club last year for breaches that could be considered frivolous and which involve the poor behaviour of patrons. I have been informed of the particulars of the several breaches, which include the serving of six cans to a patron instead of the stipulated four; the drinking of beer and wine directly from carafes instead of cups; patrons obtaining pass-outs to drink in car parks; crowd controllers being indifferent to the intoxication of patrons; and crowd counters not working.
All of these breaches are explainable and understandable, particularly at a large event run by volunteer staff—and I highlight the word 'volunteer'. It is disappointing that licensing enforcement officers do not attempt to work with the licensee in order to ensure compliance rather than simply sit back and wait for things to go wrong and pounce.
In the case of the first breach, the poor volunteer was actually duped by patrons into selling six cans instead of four to one customer. However, in his opinion, he genuinely believed he was serving two customers. Wow—why don't we bring in the STAR Force! If there is no carelessness or negligence on the part of the volunteer, why is he being hauled before police and the Licensing Court? The fact is he was very distressed that he had caused the club trouble but also that he himself faced a hefty penalty. All of this could have been avoided if officers had targeted the true offender, the irresponsible patron who tried to circumvent licensing rules by obtaining more than four drinks in one transaction.
The club was very confident that they had less than 4,000 patrons, despite being licensed for 7,000. The club was still cited for breaching this condition of the licence simply because the electronic counters of security guards stopped working and could not produce an accurate reading. This is ridiculous when it can easily be proven that the club was well within its licence conditions.
If the burden of responsibility for patron behaviour was on the individual rather than the licensee, then most of the resources spent on licensing enforcement could be spent on fair dinkum policing and crowd control. If licensing enforcement officers saw regular examples of severe intoxication and the added effects, then they should be assisting licensees with removing these patrons or escorting them somewhere they can be helped.
Licensees, especially those running a community event with volunteers, should not be treated as the bad guys who cause this mess, as it is the irresponsible patrons who should be, in the eyes of the law, locked up. It is conceivable that if the burden of responsibility shifted to the individuals, then the genuine chance of reform of our drinking and nightlife culture may be possible.
My final point is that the recent proposal to breath test hospitality staff falls under this same category. How will this improve the compliance of licensed venues? How will this ensure that licensed venues are safer and better for all? It is no surprise that the hospitality industry is unanimous in its objection to this proposal.
I can think of at least one clear example where a blanket rule of zero BAC for staff would not work, and that is at cellar doors. Preventing a winemaker from sampling wine whilst spinning a yarn with patrons over a tasting is not only draconian but it will ruin a great tradition in this state and one that is essential to tourism and our culture. So, I will continue to press the government on this issue to ensure a permanent change in this area of public policy and I will do everything I can to protect volunteers.