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"Let the market decide": Push for small bars in the 'burbs

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A review of the state’s liquor licensing regime has been strongly petitioned to extend small bar licenses beyond the Adelaide CBD, with one metropolitan council mayor insisting “the market should decide” where start-up ventures operate.

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Submissions have closed for the review by former Supreme Court Judge Tim Anderson, which is due to report to Government in June.

But a raft of metropolitan councils, including Onkaparinga, Holdfast Bay and Burnside, have used their submissions to push for an extension of the Government’s much-trumpeted Small Venue Licences beyond the city limits.

Those have been backed by Restaurant and Catering SA, whose own submission “supports small venue licences being made available in other locations”.

“Such licences can activate desolate precincts, improving the amenity and dining culture of emerging destinations,” it says, although it emphases “their introduction should be controlled and measured so as not to adversely impact businesses currently in operation”.

Onkaparinga’s submission argues start-ups “should be supported with licenses that are reasonable to obtain”.

“As such, we would welcome the introduction of the Small Venue License category into our council area,” it says.

Onkaparinga Mayor Lorraine Rosenberg today hit back at Adelaide Lord Mayor Martin Haese’s recent claim that doing just that would “kill the goose that laid the golden egg”, arguing: “Adelaide’s CBD isn’t the only place where entrepreneurship should thrive.”

Rosenberg said market demand and the strength of the business model should determine whether small bars failed or succeeded, arguing many had done so in Adelaide “because it unleashed the creativity of young entrepreneurs who were previously constrained by excessive regulation”.

“As chair of the Metropolitan Local Government Group, I work closely with the Lord Mayor and the other metropolitan mayors on a range of issues, including economic development, and those meetings have confirmed that desire for small bars outside of the Adelaide CBD is very strong,” Rosenberg said.

“Martin says he doesn’t like ‘protectionist’ legislation and I certainly agree with him. We know the model works so we should let the market – and our young entrepreneurs – decide where small bars can succeed.”

She said a small bar culture in, say, Port Noarlunga would have a “vastly different character and culture than that developing in the city centre”, and was therefore “not competition [but] giving people greater choice”.

It’s not the first “vibrancy” issue Onkaparinga has weighed into, having sought to entice food trucks down south after the city council tightened its own regulations on mobile food vans.

Restaurant and Catering SA chief Sally Neville said the deregulation of small venue licences “should be extended into the suburbs, just to create a level playing field, as it were, for businesses that want to get into that market”.

“Having said that, there are far too many [small bars] in the city at the moment anyway,” she said, arguing there were now “about 70” venues utilizing the new arrangements.

“It’s reaching an unsustainable point in the city, but if we broaden it out, many of those businesses have a better chance of survival in the long-term.”

She said Haese’s stance was “obviously protecting the growth of the sector within the city” but added: “We’ve told the Lord Mayor on many occasions there’s enormous supply in the city of Adelaide, but there just isn’t the demand.”

“We don’t have the population to support that many operations,” she said.

Renewal SA has modeled the impact of the small-bar mini-boom, determining that 50 small venues would contribute around $50 million to the state economy, employing more than 600 people directly and a further 100 indirectly.

However, Renewal SA chief John Hanlon told a forum last year that the market would determine how many of the new – and old – operators survived.

“We might get one or two hotels struggling (but) the market’s going to sort it out… on small bars, whether 50 works, or 30 … it will sort it out,” he said.

Planning Minister John Rau’s office said he would await the outcome of the review before determining a position on extending small bar licenses.

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