Newcastle Herald: Police fear diluted laws as Newcastle pubs, clubs seek cocktail shake-up

The police union has slammed a relaxation of late-night alcohol restrictions in Newcastle after a prominent inner-city pub won approval to serve cocktails after 10pm.

In the face of opposition from NSW Police, the Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority has approved a request from The Lucky Hotel to remove the condition preventing it from serving mixed drinks after 10pm.ADVERTISING  

Nightclub Argyle House has applied for permission to serve shots and cocktails after 10pm. That application is open for public feedback until January 9.

Customs House won the right to relax the same rules after applying in May, despite ILGA ruling against such a move last year because the drink limits “provide a practical means of reducing patron intoxication levels and misconduct in the CBD”.

The restrictions are part of the so-called Newcastle Solution imposed on inner-city pubs and clubs in 2008 to curb late-night violence.

Police Association of NSW executive member Ian Allwood said relaxing booze laws would likely lead to more trouble on the streets.

“We still say that the Newcastle conditions contribute to a 70 per cent reduction in assaults and any relaxing of them puts emergency service workers, front-line police, at risk and the community at risk,” he said.

“It’s not a sensible move at all.

“My understanding is police did lodge an objection to it, but they’ve gone ahead and done it anyway.”

The Lucky argued in its application that its patrons were mostly aged over 25, the pub had recorded no licence breaches nor alcohol-related assaults since opening in 2014 and the cocktail ban left staff “embarrassed” and customers “offended”.

It said “thousands of international and national guests” were “refused this service on a daily basis at the bar”.

Co-owner Blake Nash said the Lucky was relatively upmarket and it was “a shame” it had been tarred with the same brush as other venues.

Newcastle council and both sides of politics back weakening drink restrictions to stimulate late-night trade.

The government scrapped Sydney’s lockout laws, except in Kings Cross, in January and has foreshadowed reviewing Newcastle’s.

The council and government are also running a trial of weakened late-night trading rules for small bars and restaurants in the Newcastle CBD.

Mr Allwood said the impact of COVID-19, the small bar trial and the end of Sydney lockouts had encouraged Newcastle pubs and clubs to seek changes.

“The small bar trial was the thin end of the wedge. We always knew that.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of these in the coming months.

“We don’t want to be the organisation that says, ‘We told you so,’ but it is a move back in the wrong direction.

“There’s nothing wrong with the alcohol restrictions that are there in Newcastle. They are clearly saving people from being assaulted.”

“It’s a watching brief now to see how it rolls through this summer period.”

ILGA has also approved new licences for the Rum Diary Bar and QT Hotel East End in Hunter Street and is assessing applications for the Members Only bar at 313 Hunter Street and the soon-to-open Kingsley five-star hotel in King Street.

Anti-violence campaigner Tony Brown agreed with the police union that Newcastle risked returning to the “most violent location in NSW”.

“Returning Newcastle CBD, with the imminent influx of around 1500 new residents, to the pre-2008 liquor licensing and DA conditions … may be the consequences of the government and council’s expressed desire for a ‘more vibrant, sophisticated and activated night-time economy’, but it won’t be a good Christmas present for the rapidly growing numbers of local residents and families and our brave front-line police and medical workers,” he said.

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