27 March 2017

New alcohol laws draw mixed reaction from Civic’s bars and pubs

| David Tuckwell
Start the conversation
Wig & Pen

If Civic is the heart of Canberra’s nightlife, the bars and pubs are its veins and arteries.

New alcohol laws were introduced to the legislative assembly last week, giving establishments the power to kick out drunks and if those evicted loiter they’ll be fined.

Small venues and grog shops will have their taxes cut while big businesses face tax hikes.

The government will also acquire powers to force venues to install security cameras, block bars selling shots after midnight and grant the Attorney-General greater scope to ban certain alcohol.

Introduced in the name of “cutting red tape” by Labor MLA Gordon Ramsay, the new laws have drawn mixed reactions from establishment owners whom they aim to help.

“We don’t want to run a bar where we’re forced to have security: it really changes the vibe,” says Antony Arena, the owner of The Highball Express.

“Everyone gets drunk from time to time and a lot of people are happy to leave when asked. We don’t see too much of people getting agro. In my experience, the problem is not so much alcohol as the person. Alcohol can be a magnifier of other stuff people have going on in their lives.

“The government has been fantastic and good to deal with and this is a big step forward but it still feels too political.”

For Richard Watkins, the owner of BentSpoke, the new laws were a fantastic development.

“We think these changes are very good for BentSpoke. It’s great to see this government has been prepared to make these changes to the Liquor Act.”

“Creating a statutory power to remove people who have come to the bar intoxicated from other venues, after they have been refused service, will aid managing of the bar.”

“We welcome the introduction of fines for loitering in the vicinity of a venue after being directed to leave.”


Lachlan McOmish, the owner of Wig & Pen, saw the laws as missing the point.

“In my view, the focus of government should be looking at the root causes, which is the culture.”

“You don’t see people drunk or [alcohol-related] violence in Paris. That’s because they have a fully professional hospitality system. There is no cash in hand.”

“If the government wants to do something they have to deal with the culture.”

Last year, a bill attempting to introduce Sydney-style lockout laws was defeated following widespread protest from bar owners and community groups. The latest laws are a significantly watered down version of last year’s bill.

Rising concern over alcohol-related violence comes at a time when alcohol consumption is declining nationwide.

Despite state and territory governments attempting to legislate for nightlife safety, research has found that stricter alcohol laws have little effect in making cities safer.


Captions: Middle, Richard Watkins, BentSpokes owner and head brewer. Above, Lachlan McOmish, owner of Wig & Pen.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.