Last week the state government announced plans to implement a series of fee and fine increases ahead of the state budget on June 18.
The charges are a revenue raiser to help offset a $517 million shortfall in expected GST revenue. “It’s imperative we seek to plug that hole in a responsible way,” treasurer Rob Lucas said in a statement.
Among price surges for speeding fines and small increases to public transport fares (including the removal of short-trip tickets) are sweeping changes to the state’s liquor licensing structure.
The new “risk-based” model, which will take effect in November (but will not impact existing licensees until the annual fee renewal period in June 2020), is based on a 2016 review by former supreme court judge Hon. Tim Anderson QC that was commissioned by the former Labor government. It involves a variety of fee increases for venues based on capacity, trading hours, location and licence type.
Bars that hold a Small Venue Licence will see an increase in annual licensing fees from $115 (an amount that hasn’t changed since the inception of small bars in 2015) to $425.
There’s also a new $500 fee for venues (of certain licence categories) in a “high-risk location”. Currently that means Hindley Street, but a statement to Broadsheet says areas deemed “high-risk” will be “developed further in consultation with South Australia Police”.
Causing particular alarm among traders is a significant price hike for venues open after 2am. Under the changes, licensed venues that trade after this time will be required to pay between $2000 (for those who trade until 3am) and $30,000 (for those who trade past 5am).
Bank Street Social co-owner Simon Orders says his fees would increase from $2000 to $6000 if he continues to trade until 4am on weekends. He says he's considering closing at 3am.
Rundle Street’s long-running Sugar will be required to pay $15,000 per year to continue to operate until 5am. Owner Driller Armstrong told Broadsheet he was considering selling the business because of the price hike.
“It seems obvious to me that the government wants all businesses to close at 2am, bar of course the casino.
“I fear it will be the end of my business and the jobs of the many mainly young people we employ, from security to bar staff to local and international touring DJs, to graphic designers and sound technicians.
“This is an attack on culture.”
Included in the raft of changes is a “User Pays Scheme” – like those already in effect in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria – for large commercial events that require a police presence. The Premier’s Department told Broadsheet this is likely to include music festivals.
Emmanuel Cusack, former manager of SA's marriage equality campaign, says similar policies interstate have negatively impacted on "jobs, tourism and the city and state’s image". “We have seen already festival closures interstate and the impacts on small independent bars and clubs after the introduction of similar laws,” he tells Broadsheet.
Cusack – with Soi 38 co-owner and former policy advisor Daisy Miller – this week established a new representative body called Vibrant SA to push back against the licensing changes.
“South Australia is the 'The Festival State'. Vibrant SA wants to work with government to ensure that our state lives up to our name,” says Cusack. “We are asking the government to reconsider the new liquor licence increases and police user pay system and consult properly as to the implications.”
Miller, who also sat on the state council for the Restaurant and Catering Association (R&CA) from 2015 to 2019, acknowledges the role they and other existing bodies such as Australian Hotels Association (AHA) and Festivals Adelaide already play in representing the hospitality and arts industries, but suggests everyone needs to come together to fight the new fees.
“We feel that in this instance, these bodies looking after only their own members are setting themselves up against each other rather than looking at the big picture and working together,” Miller tells Broadsheet.
As a restaurant owner, Miller’s annual licensing fees have gone from $115 to $375 – an increase she admits is modest compared with other price hikes. But she’s concerned about the flow-on effect to her business from venues and events charged with higher fees. “Those festivals bring restaurant visitors,” she says.
"I can wear $300 a year – that’s not going to kill me. But what will kill me … I sit underneath the Pullman Adelaide, I’m across the road from the Mantra and the Ibis, I’m down the road from the Richmond Hotel, I’m behind the Majestic Hotel, I‘ve got the tallest hotel in Adelaide going up down the road – if they’re not full of people my restaurant’s not full of people. We don’t have the population here to maintain all the amazing food and wine venues we’ve got.
“There’s been so many amazing openings and there’s so many good things going on, but we’re all aware we’re spreading ourselves a bit thin. We rely on our young people staying here and supporting us … if you start closing these things down our young people will go back to Melbourne and Sydney like they used to. It’s going to cause a brain drain, which I don’t think has been considered at all.”
It’s not yet clear what additional costs events will incur through the User Pays Scheme, and Miller says its inclusion has blindsided local event organisers.
“They’ve had little to no consultation. The wording of what’s been put out by the government is really vague and there’s a lot of anxiety by people who are getting ready to start planning for next March. They have to line up acts and know where they’re spending the money and at the moment we don’t know when it’s being implemented and what the basis of the implementation will be.”
The Premier’s Department tells Broadsheet the scheme will be implemented on July 1, 2020, and extensive community consultation will be undertaken before then.
The government says the new fee structure strikes a balance between “supporting a vibrant hospitality industry and protecting the public by encouraging a safe drinking culture”.
“It’s utter nonsense to suggest these sensible reforms will have any real adverse effect on the vibrancy of Adelaide’s nightlife,” treasurer Lucas said in a statement to Broadsheet.
“The reality is, for most small bars in the city, their liquor licence fee will rise only $6 a week, which we don’t believe will do any harm whatsoever to their ongoing operations or viability.
“For those larger nightclubs that currently choose to open until 5am, they will need to make a commercial decision as to whether it’s commercially viable for them to continue trading that additional hour from 4am if they are to pay an additional $9000. Ultimately, it’s a decision for the venue operator.”
The new fees are part of a much wider budget reallocation, which includes the axing of Brand South Australia and Adelaide Fashion Festival.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the "high-risk location" fee would apply to all licensed premises along Hindley Street. This fee in fact only applies to certain licence categories as stipulated here.