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Showdown looms on small bar laws

Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Author: Melissa Mack, Indaily

THE much vaunted small bar licence for Adelaide's CBD has become the first legislative battleground of the year.

The State Government has introduced the legislation to cut costs and streamline the process for entrepreneurs setting up small bars in the CBD as part of its plan to make the city "vibrant".

The laws would allow bars of up to 120-person capacity, and a fast tracked licence with fewer regulations than other categories, including removing the right of nearby residents and businesses to object.

But the Opposition yesterday flagged amendments, which will be introduced in the Legislative Council, in line with desires of industry body the Australian Hotel's Association to cut the maximum capacity to 80 people.

Liberal MPs also said the bill should also allow residents to oppose the licence.

Indaily understands that the government is unlikely to accept the amendments and is hoping cross-benchers will allow the bill to pass.

In a colourful speech which referenced singer Gloria Gaynor, Attorney-General John Rau compared the Opposition's stance to that of France in relation to the introduction of fair trade.

He said the changes would make the legislation "utterly empty".

Rau said the ability to object must be removed to protect small bars from "absurd" restrictions, citing the case of Leigh Street bar udaberri, which as a term of its licence is not allowed to serve Australian beer.

He said what the objectors were after were "still-born businesses".

"There is a very real cost barrier here," he said. "It comes from people who are anti-competitive; I don't blame them for that but let's not make a virtue of a totally self-interested exercise."

The legislation follows the introduction of similar licensing categories interstate. Melbourne has supported its thousands of small bars since the 1980s and is largely deregulated, while Queensland has introduced a licence in 2009 for venues of 60 patrons, which has only been taken up by 32 venues.

Western Australia has introduced a similar licence to Adelaide with a maximum capacity of 120, which has spawned 63 bars since 2007.

Sydney has experienced a boom in small bars, also at a capacity of 120, since its licensing change in 2008 which cut costs from $15,000 to $500.

Rau said the fees in South Australia would reduce costs to $700.

But new deputy opposition leader Vickie Chapman said the government could be setting up businesses to go broke.

"Young people don't move to Sydney because it has small bars, they go for jobs and opportunities," she said.

"[With this bill] the tsunami that is about to hit is if they can operate them successfully."

Chapman said residents should be able to have a say.

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