License to disrupt: Will more liquor permits at the Multicultural festival lead to more drunken behaviour?
Community groups shut out of liquor permits at this year’s Multicultural Festival in Civic are being told to partner with the bigger clubs to sell alcohol on their behalf despite public safety and concerns about drunkenness being cited as reasons for limiting the number of alcohol outlets.
The number of liquor permits has been slashed from 62 to 21 amid claims the decision favoured the bigger clubs.
Stallholders were advised last September as part of the festival’s Participation Policy that community applications would no longer be given liquor permits.
It was reported this week that police recommended the change in a review of last year’s festival, despite taking just three people into custody for intoxication out of a crowd of 280,000.
Multicultural Affairs Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith told the ABC that the ACT Government placed great importance on the festival being a safe environment for all, including families and children, but also encouraged those denied permits to partner with licensed stallholders, such as those larger clubs, to sell alcohol on their behalf.
Longtime festival volunteer Leo Dobes said this proposal to partner with the big clubs was contradictory and defeated the purpose of reducing this claimed drunkenness.
He said there was no evidence linking the sale of alcohol by the smaller cultural associations to drunkenness and the decision simply handed a monopoly to the bigger clubs.
“It’s outrageous giving monopoly to a set of large clubs when the excuse for not allowing smaller associations to sell alcohol is that there is a danger of people getting drunk, well people will get drunk whether they buy it from a club or somewhere else or bring it with them,” he said.
Mr Dobes said the smaller groups were being denied income and there were concerns that the bigger clubs were being given priority because they contributed more money to the festival.
“So now it is becoming a commercial venture rather than the way it used to be, which was a nice community-based event,” he said.
Few groups would complain publicly due to fear of being denied places at future festivals.
Mr Dobes called for more transparency in the festival decision making, particularly in the allocation of stall sites.
Questions put to the Minister were referred to festival organisers in the Community Services Directorate, which said stakeholders including ACT Policing provided extensive feedback on a number of aspects regarding the festival including the number of liquor stalls.
“We recognised that community organisations may be affected by changes to liquor licenses. The festival team received feedback from around half a dozen groups that were concerned and has worked with them to identify alternatives, such as partnering with liquor permit holders who can sell alcohol on their behalf or focusing on the sale of food and other products,” a Directorate statement said.
The Directorate did not explain how this would reduce drunkenness or contribute to public safety, or whether this flagged a tougher approach to the sale of alcohol at public events.
The spokesperson said the Government and festival team took on board feedback from stallholders and festival goers each year and the situation would be reviewed for the 2019 festival.
ACT Policing said in a statement that it, along with all stakeholders involved in the Multicultural Festival, provided feedback and advice in an effort to maintain community safety and provide a safe, fun and family-friendly atmosphere.
“ACT Policing participated in general discussions with other stakeholders in regards to liquor permits and supports these being issued to organisations and groups that have staff appropriately trained in the responsible service of alcohol and the appropriate liquor licensing for handling the sale of alcohol in public, in line with the current legislation,” it said.
After last year’s event, police issued a media release saying they were pleased with the behaviour of festival goers.
It said that police responded to four reports of theft, three assaults, and took three people into protective custody for intoxication.