I rise today to speak about the Liquor Control Reform Amendment Bill 2021. It would be remiss of me to not start this debate by talking about the tragic effects that alcohol has on our community. Its impact is greater than any other drug, probably because it is so accessible. The power that alcohol companies wield over our governments, Labor and Liberal alike, is frankly a blight on Victoria’s decision-making capability and has clouded the achievements successive governments could have had with reform in this space. I spoke in this place in late June when my motion on SCRAM CAM bracelets was being debated. In that debate I spoke extensively on the types of alternative approaches our justice system can take to respond to recidivist alcohol and other drug offenders. I acknowledge that today we are not talking about alcohol-driven criminals, but my sentiments remain: there are some people that have proven time and time again that they should not have the right to drink. What I am about to contribute may seem a little anti alcohol.
I assure you that I love a beer and a wine just like the next person, but I know there are others that do not know just how to have one or two beers or one or two wines. For those who might criticise my stance today and think, ‘We need competition and we need businesses to grow’, I remind you that alcohol licences have outstripped population growth for decades. Whilst the population grew by less than 9.5 per cent in the last five years, liquor outlets grew by 17 per cent. They are flooding the market. Clearly there is plenty of booze around. A quick search of the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) website will tell you that currently there are 24 719 liquor licences operating—wow! Let me continue by speaking about a man called Jimmy. Jimmy supplies alcohol; in fact Jimmy brings it to your doorstep in 30 minutes, ice cold. When you log on to Jimmy’s website, he tells you the earliest time he can deliver your order. When I logged on he told me he could be there by 11.00 am— this was under 30 minutes—with spirits, beers, wines, whatever I needed and beyond any amount I could possibly desire. I could send the alcohol to myself, or I could send it to someone else; they just needed to show ID. Jimmy also told me that every time an Aussie won gold at the Olympics he would give me 10 per cent off my order if I spent more than 60 bucks—bargain.
Sadly, as many in this place may be aware, there was the death of a man in Sydney after the alcohol delivery service Jimmy Brings delivered three bottles of wine to his home almost every day in the weeks before he died. I do welcome the news that the New South Wales alcohol regulator is now apparently investigating Jimmy Brings. The man apparently spent $24 000 with Jimmy Brings on almost 300 orders in the three years before his death. I commend the code of conduct many same-day delivery groups have voluntarily adopted; however, I also do not think Jimmy knows the damage he has the potential to inflict. That is why this bill is so important. It is regulating an industry that until now has been allowed to basically do whatever it has wanted. Just before I dive into the bill itself, we must be clear about the impacts of alcohol as a result of this pandemic. This is because there are elements within the bill that continue the status quo that was established last year through an omnibus bill. This includes the inability for home delivery of alcohol with a meal from a cafe or restaurant. A new study by Turning Point analysing Ambulance Victoria’s data makes very clear the impacts of alcohol during COVID. The Age reported on 3 August that the proportion of alcohol-related call-outs to the home, as opposed to outside the home, jumped from 60 to 81 per cent from the start of the pandemic to the end of the state’s protracted lockdown last year. This is not too surprising, given we could not leave home for most of the time to enjoy a drink, but it is still worrying given this is dangerous drinking behaviour—when you need ambos to help you. Interestingly, Ambulance Victoria were attending to a different cohort. Whilst there was less scooping up of young drunk people on the streets, which I unfortunately experienced firsthand in the police force, they were now going to people’s homes and finding people drunk and mentally unstable. The demographic had also completely shifted, with many reports of mid-30- to mid-40-year-olds, many of women who otherwise had never drinking issues, now becoming victims of alcohol. The reasons for this were reportedly financial pressures, boredom perhaps from losing their job or studies, juggling work, homeschooling and the restrictions of not seeing people that they love. From the outset it is important to say that this bill does not go far enough. Dan Lubman, executive clinical director of Turning Point, said alcohol-related ambulance attendances for people in their 30s rose between 18 to 45 per cent in the middle of last year compared to the year before. Importantly, Professor Lubman also said that alcohol, especially in COVID, was a key driver of family violence, which we all know. Regardless of the very important causal link to family violence, alcohol consumption has increased greatly since the pandemic began. A Roy Morgan study released early in September shows that over 800 000 more Australians have been driven to drink in the last financial year. Nearly 70 per cent of Australian adults now consume alcohol in an average four-week period. Given all these facts and statistics that I have just covered, I have consulted widely to come up with ways for this bill to be improved. Therefore, I have drafted amendments to this bill, which I would now like to circulate if possible.
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party amendments circulated by Mr GRIMLEY pursuant to standing orders.
Mr GRIMLEY: These amendments have come about as, although our party welcomes the changes brought by the government, we do not think the bill has enough protections within it. I will speak about these amendments later on, in the committee stage. That leads me to where this bill has come from. This bill comes from recommendation 93 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, which was handed down five years ago. Family violence advocates, academics and many other industry groups will tell you that this bill actually does little in terms of reducing family violence. Recommendation 93 states, and I quote: The Victorian Government ensure that the terms of reference of the current review of the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 (Vic) consider family violence and alcohol-related harms. Apart from the definition of ‘harm’ that is amended in this bill, can the government explain where this bill addresses the actual involvement of alcohol in family violence? I concede that disallowing sameday delivery for intoxicated persons will go some way, but there are several flaws with how this element of the legislation will even be implemented. Firstly, you are not mandating training for delivery people to know what intoxication is. How will they know what signs to look for? What happens when aggressive and intoxicated people pressure delivery persons to leave the alcohol? How will this be policed, when we apparently have less than 30 compliance officers to cover over 10 000 home delivery licences? Secondly, Victoria currently has a penalty for licensees that serve alcohol to intoxicated persons, but I query how this will be enforced. In 2016, 13 000 people were fined for being intoxicated in a licensed venue, yet no licensees were fined for supplying the liquor to these people. This is despite serving alcohol to intoxicated people being clearly unlawful. So there are two issues to overcome: finding and identifying someone who has become more intoxicated through same-day delivery and also fining the licensees for doing so. Thirdly, the current definition of ‘intoxicated’ is unclear and puzzling at best. This government bill clearly is not going to change that. If the government does not know how to define the term, how are licensees supposed to guide their contractors on how to identify this behaviour, and how are delivery persons themselves supposed to identify this behaviour? Lastly, there is no opt-out or self-exclusion mechanism. Those who are seeking counselling or behaviour interventions for family violence and perhaps even victims of family violence as well may want to exclude themselves or be on a banned register for these tempting apps. Courts may also wish to enforce their sobriety orders through these apps to reduce the likelihood of breaking the order. But nowhere to be seen in this bill is a self-exclusion option. The evidence clearly tells us alcohol increases the frequency and severity of family violence. It is involved in a quarter of police attendances to family violence episodes, according to this year’s Crime Statistics Agency data. This is why recommendation 93, arguably the only royal commission recommendation that points to the involvement of alcohol or other drugs in family violence, is so important. I honestly think that the government has missed a huge opportunity here and instead has played to influential alcohol companies, which is really disappointing. Here is another example of how the bill could have been strengthened. The evidence is clear that the more retail liquor outlets you have in an area the higher family violence prevalence is. Dr Michael Livingston, Professor Peter Miller and Professor Tanya Chikritzhs are names synonymous with alcohol research. They suggest, in respective works, that if you reduce or monitor the density of new retail liquor outlets, you will reduce family violence. Livingston’s article, ‘A longitudinal analysis of alcohol outlet density and domestic violence’ in 2011 is absolutely worth reading for anyone interested in this area. It is not a new exercise either. Western Australia has a law that the government cannot issue a licence for a large packaged liquor outlet, one that is over 400 square metres, within 5 kilometres of an existing outlet in a metropolitan area or 12 kilometres in a regional area. This is practical and goes to my earlier point about liquor licences outnumbering population growth by about 50 per cent. The Victorian government has not even touched on reforming outlet density at all, except for including community impact assessments (CIA). The bill basically says that if the ‘net economic and social impact’ of granting the liquor outlet application ‘would be detrimental to the wellbeing of the local community’ the VCGLR may—not ‘will’, but ‘may’—refuse an application. Can someone please tell me what the threshold of ‘detrimental’ is? My assumption is that it is a reasonably high threshold to meet for a bottle shop to be refused. Hopefully this query can be answered in the committee stage. Further, we know from history that liquor licence applications are notoriously being granted by the VCGLR. Take Casey council’s battle with the commission in 2017. A 1400-square-metre Dan Murphy’s in Cranbourne East was approved, despite the council and the community arguing it would affect the amenity of the community. No wonder Casey is in the top three local government areas of the state for crime, family violence and other negative factors exacerbated by alcohol. At the time, the City of Casey mayor was even quoted as saying, and I quote: Research shows there is a strong link between the proximity of packaged liquor outlets, alcohol consumption and incidences of family violence. The council is concerned the adverse effects of alcohol use in our community are increasing. Even the Chief Commissioner of Police supported the objection, saying the projected retail sales needed to be provided or he would not be able to assess if the application would be conducive to the abuse of alcohol. Interpretation of the act is in favour of liquor companies—simple as that. How was this bottle shop approved when it would add to the existing 70 bottle shops in Casey, with 25 of those within a 5-kilometre radius? I do not know, but it is indicative of a problem that could have been fixed in this bill. In the words of a report commissioned by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, the Casey example, and I quote: … has had a potentially chilling effect on local governments attempting to refuse or object to new packaged liquor licences in the future. In effect they are saying councils are not opposing liquor applications because they know their concerns will not be heard. I do, however, thank the government for their work to provide for the community impact assessments. I do not hold my breath, though, that the councils and community members will have the to provide counterarguments or to object to the untruths in the CIAs provided by liquor companies. I say this because my office has spoken to councils that have dealt with the same issue in gaming. Why would alcohol be any different? Lastly on councils, the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) stated in their submission to the liquor review in 2016, and I quote: Local Government is a key stakeholder in both planning and in responding to referred liquor licence applications. I was disappointed to learn councils themselves had not been consulted on this bill, not least councils with higher family violence and alcohol-related harm rates, like Casey or Geelong. Consultation with MAV only went as far as their submission, but as far as I am aware there was no exposure draft for their review, including of the significant changes in the venues’ licence hours and same-day delivery. After all, this review of the act was supposed to be about minimising harm and domestic violence, not about making alcohol more accessible. Alcohol companies are notorious for targeting areas already struggling. Deakin University’s submission to the liquor control review stated, and I quote: … alcohol outlets tend to flourish in areas of socio-economic disadvantage. For example, in regional and rural Victoria, there were six times as many packaged liquor outlets and four times as many pubs and clubs per person in disadvantaged areas. If you do not believe me that access to liquor directly correlates with family violence, one study in the Northern Territory found that restrictions on alcohol outlet opening hours and takeaway sales on Thursdays led to a decline in admissions to women’s refuges—remarkable. I query whether the department actually read the submission, because Deakin not only pointed out the problem but came up with a solution, which has been ignored. They recommended saturation zones based on the UK model. These zones inhibit the growth of liquor licences in high-risk areas as measured by factors such as existing outlet density and crime data. When an area has been judged as reaching saturation, no new licences are permitted and the onus is on the applicants to prove that their licence will not result in additional harms. This is similar to Western Australia’s approach but is based on evidence. Why hasn’t the government looked at that? In terms of the compliance of licensees, I have been informed that across Victoria the VCGLR has about 15 to 20 compliance officers in the city and three or so officers in regional Victoria. That means for the whole state we have less than 30 compliance officers that cover about 25 000 licences, as it stands. This bill will add at least an additional 6500 liquor licences where alcohol can be sent to your home. If my maths is correct, we will need another 50 to 60 compliance officers to deal with the additional licences following the passage of this bill. Not only this, but the bill allows sporting clubs, of which a large proportion are home to under-age kids, to deliver alcohol. These businesses will require all the help and oversight possible to ensure compliance with these new conditions. Compliance is obviously going to be a huge issue after the passage of this bill, and I would certainly be following closely how this is proposed to be addressed by the government. Not only does alcohol negatively impact upon family violence, but general assaults and sexual assaults are much more prevalent when we insert alcohol into the situation. There needs to be more accountability on the venues to take action against such offences and reports of offences. One way we could do this is a violent venues scheme similar to the one brought into New South Wales in 2008. This is where licensed premises are graded according to the number of alcohol-related violent incidents that may be experienced over a certain period.
I envisage this could also include sexual incidents where they are reported to management. Venues with 12 or more incidents make the list, with those recording 18 or more incidents classed as level 1. Venues may then be subject to a set of special licence conditions depending on their classification. For example, for level 1 venues conditions include a mandatory 1.30 am lockout and no glass containers after midnight. Level 2 venues are subject to similar conditions but to a lesser degree, and level 3 venues are encouraged to develop or review their safety practices. Evaluations observed by Deakin University show that naming violent venues was associated with significant declines in assaults in and around licensed venues across New South Wales and improved licensee behaviour. The number of licensed premises on the New South Wales government violent venues list halved from 12 to six in the last six months of 2019. Interestingly, the Salvation Army, the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, the Uniting Church and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education all wrote directly to the Premier in June two years ago to express their concerns about assaults in licensed venues, and they have proposed the scheme that I have mentioned. However, I welcome news from the minister’s office that they have started utilising a data-driven model where compliance officers and police will target areas or venues that have a high number of assaults or other incidents. This is great news. If we look to New South Wales, they have just passed a similar bill to the one we see before us. However, their bill went much further in terms of safety, including providing a self-exclusion register. I will note here the Victorian bill does not even require delivery persons to have any type of responsible service of alcohol training, despite it being called upon universally. This is one of the amendments that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party will be introducing, and we look forward to the government’s response on this. We will also be mirroring the New South Wales bill’s penalty on licensees if they financially penalise a delivery person, but I will speak to my amendments further in the committee stage. In summary, the bill undoubtedly does some good things, specifically the definition of ‘harm’ which encompasses family violence. I think this is a great move. I am slightly pessimistic when it comes to enforcement of all these new rules, given the systemic issues which the VCGLR already has with regard to compliance by licensees. What is going to happen when we add 6500 new licences to the mix? More compliance? That is doubtful. Not that long ago, on 12 September actually, I watched a fascinating documentary on the ABC hosted by Shaun Micallef, as part of his On the Sauce program. During the show Mr Micallef stated, and I quote: Figures suggest the easier it is to get alcohol, the harder it is to stem the flow of antisocial behaviour. He went on to say, and I quote: In Victoria a decade-long study found a link between domestic violence and the number of bottle shops in a neighbourhood. Basically, where there are more liquor outlets, the number of assaults rise. These comments are a sound reflection of our concerns with this bill. This has been one of my longer contributions, but I think it just goes to show how serious our party is when it comes to family violence and alcohol-related crime. It has been disappointing speaking to organisations, who spent a lot of time in consultation with this bill, whose recommendations were completely ignored. It has been more disappointing speaking with those who had not seen the bill and yet are greatly affected by it. I hope the government will at least commit to the ministerial review that I am proposing so that in 18 months time we can see how this bill is really tracking.