Local clubs to coach society’s drinking habits

Local Member for South Perth, Mr John McGrath, is concerned about the implications of the Rudd Government’s national binge drinking strategy on local sporting clubs.

The Federal Government’s $53 million strategy was announced last Monday. The Prime Minister stated, at this stage, that a portion of these funds would be directed to local sporting clubs to assist them with the production of codes of conduct to address the problem of binge drinking. A failure to comply with the strategy would influence future decisions made about the grant of federal funds to that club.

“Mr Rudd is anticipating that Federal grants may be revoked from local clubs where they fail to comply with the national strategy, the parameters of which are yet to be clearly set out,” Mr McGrath said,

“From his press conference this week, Rudd’s scheme is hand-balling a lot of the responsibility for liquor control to sporting clubs, requiring them to be the frontline against the drinking epidemic.

“In WA, given our recent changes to the liquor licensing laws, this component of the national strategy seems to miss the mark; it also implies that local clubs are failing when it comes to their management of alcohol.”

Rudd emphasised that the Federal Government was offering assistance, at a community level, to what is already been done by local police and organisations. Mr McGrath pointed out that in at least WA there are already significant and onerous restrictions on clubs’ liquor licences, some of which being replicated in this scheme.

The liquor laws in WA were tightened recently when the Liquor and Gaming Legislation Amendment Act passed through Parliament in December 2006. Now, local clubs must comply with a range of stringent criteria and pay the required fees before they are granted a licence permitting the service of alcohol. All new applicants must also each undertake an approved course and exam on the management and responsible service of alcohol.

Once they attain a licence, clubs can only serve alcohol as authorised by the conditions attached to their licence. These conditions regulate, amongst other things: the hours of service, the clientele who may be served and the employees who must be on site when alcohol is being served (where all clubs must have an approved manager on site at all times).

“The WA liquor licensing regime imposes an obligation on any licensees to sell and supply liquor in a responsible manner,” Mr McGrath said,

“Further to this, clubs are required to produce and display at all relevant times a House Management Policy and a Code of Conduct, which set out the licensee’s commitments to upholding the principle of ensuring responsible service of alcohol, including the club’s commitment to controlling intoxicated persons and juveniles. I have to ask- what is Rudd really adding?”

“Clearly, this is one of those issues that will require different regulation between the States,” Mr McGrath said,

“We are going to need to see the national strategy adapted to suit the peculiarities of each jurisdiction if it is going to get the support of the organisations with the responsibility of implementing it. Already, many of the WA licensing changes have been crippling small, local clubs and limiting the service they were once able to provide. We do not want to see these problems exacerbated by additional national obligations.

“If Rudd intends to impose further positive obligations on local clubs, for a peripheral part of the service they offer to the community, and impose these as essentially a pre-condition to federal funding, he is going to have to ensure it is suited to the existing liquor licensing schemes.”

Mr McGrath acknowledged that there is a concerning societal trend glamorising and normalising the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol and that sport and drinking may often seem to come hand in hand.

“However,” he added, “My problems with this scheme are twofold. Firstly; negative drinking habits are not necessarily generated from the local club level. Secondly; Rudd’s proposal is not adding anything constructive to WA’s existing liquor laws and threatens to simply add to the hoops local clubs must jump through.”

“There are ‘bigger fish’ that cater to far more customers than our local clubs that should be targeted. The national scheme threatens to unnecessarily jeopardise the services that local clubs can and will provide and misses the real culprits.”

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