Keep Canberra Open, a campaign to “save Canberra’s nightlife”, has been successful in its bid to prevent the ACT Government from introducing legislation that would enforce changes to opening hours for nightclubs and bars, but organisers are concerned the reprieve may be a temporary one.
The campaign, which has actively encouraged young Canberrans to enrol to vote ahead of the October ACT election, has more than 4800 supporters on Facebook, and in excess of 7300 signatories to a petition to be submitted to the Speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly.
Its spokesman is Ryan Sabet, a co-owner of the Mr Wolf and Academy nightclubs, and it was inspired by the April revelation that the ACT Government was considering legislating for earlier closing times and/or hikes in fees for establishments remaining open in the early hours of the morning after the measures were recommended in a white paper on liquor reform.
Keep Canberra Open’s activities were due to reach a crescendo this Saturday, with a rally in Garema Place scheduled for noon ahead of the potential introduction of legislation designed to address alcohol-related violence to the Assembly on Monday, but last night Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Attorney-General Simon Corbell issued a statement ruling out changes to rules around last drinks of closing times.
“After careful consideration of options in the Liquor White Paper and taking into account the broad range of community views, the Government has determined to rule out making changes to rules around last drinks or closing times,” they wrote.
“[The Government] will proceed with a range of reforms to the Liquor Act later this year, but they will not include changes to opening hours. The proposal to have a changed fee structure for the small number of venues that stay open past 3am will also not progress.”
The pair said the Government will continue to develop legislation for introduction later this year to make it easier for bars and clubs to run events and that new legal definitions will be developed to make it easier to deal with people who are intoxicated.
Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson, who was opposed to the proposed measures from the start, reckons the Government has made the decision in reaction to the community outcry.
“It’s an 11th hour back flip in the lead up to the election and I think we’ll see more of this as the government tries to shut down dissent in the lead up to October,” the Liberals leader said.
He said earlier this year that the Liberals would not raise fees for bars and nightclubs unnecessarily.
“[We] will instead support better enforcement measures and work cooperatively with police, venues and the public to keep Canberra open and keep Canberra safe.”
Yesterday ACT Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury revealed he was opposed to the contentious aspects of the legislation, meaning Labor lacked the numbers to get the measures passed in the Assembly.
“I don’t think 3am last drinks, through dramatically increased license fees for venues serving drinks after 3am, is the right step for our city at this stage,” he said.
“It would shut down opportunities for nightlife and entertainment in Canberra when in fact we should be moving in the other direction – growing and developing Canberra’s nightlife into something more diverse, vibrant and exciting.”
Mr Rattenbury said the Greens would support other initiatives to address alcohol-related harms and improve late-time culture including licence reforms to encourage smaller bars, restaurants and live music to thrive in Canberra; a night time “mayor” or “commissioner” to promote night culture and work with business and residents and Government; improving obligations on venues to serve alcohol responsibly and mitigate problem drinking; and responding to large volume alcohol sales that occur in off-licence premises, especially in problem areas.
The rally on Saturday will likely be a smaller affair now, though organisers plan to go ahead with it, concerned that the Government may have simply postponed their plans.
“Keep Canberra Open supporters must remain vigilant as the Government has ‘put off’ but NOT ABANDONED making a decision on last drinks or closing times until after the election,” organisers wrote on Facebook last night.
“We must continue with our Rally until the point the Government makes it clear what changes it will implement if it were to be re-elected.”
Mr Hanson will address the rally. Mr Rattenbury will also be in attendance.
Organisers will present the Government with a “Positive Late Night Economy Policy Paper” ahead of the event. They want to see improved consultation and licensing legislation more like that in force in Melbourne than in Sydney, where the so-called lock-out laws have led to several establishments closing down.
The Keep Canberra Open campaigners are supportive of legislation to reduce the risk of violence but, in the words of their petition, “not at the cost of a vibrant part of our culture especial when the proposed legislation will not adequately resolve the issue”.
“We demand smarter solutions — a holistic and lateral approach to preventing assaults which examines transport, CCTV, tougher sentencing, density and diversity of licensed premises, venue management, culture as a placating tool and the tendency towards violence among certain groups of individuals.”
Mr Corbell said addressing alcohol-fuelled violence remained a priority for the Government.
“The Government is committed to continuing to work with key stakeholders to develop a broad consensus around reforms needed and measures that will work in Canberra to reduce alcohol-related violence,” he said.