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Struggling pubs, clubs call for more liquor licence fee relief

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The state government says it’s “highly unlikely” to continue to waive liquor licence fees for pandemic-hit pubs and clubs, but is open to considering exemption applications from struggling venues.

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Treasurer Rob Lucas told InDaily that from July, the Government would likely reimpose liquor licence charges following the easing of social distancing restrictions.

But he said the Government would continue to monitor the situation in the lead up to State Budget and consider exemptions for venues that are still impacted by restrictions.

It comes after the Government announced in March that it would waive licence costs for the 2020-21 period for hotels, restaurants, cafés and clubs that were forced to close during the height of the pandemic.

While most restrictions have eased, venues are still only allowed to operate at a one person per two-square-metre capacity, with bans on dancing.

“There are signs of an easing of restrictions and also gaming machines are up and operating,” Lucas said.

“It’s highly unlikely that there will be a blanket waiver because there are some (venues) that are doing relatively well and others that are more impacted by density requirements and the like.

“We will be monitoring up until the Budget and then we will consider whether we need to make some adjustments.

“If we are doing something it’s likely to be on a case-by-case basis.”

The move has been welcomed by the Australian Hotels Association, with state branch general manager Ian Horne describing the exemptions proposal as a “reasonable” approach.

Horne said a “significant’ number of venues in the Adelaide CBD and in some regional areas were still “on their knees” and struggling to attract sufficient patronage.

“There will be a number of venues for whom 2021 is going to be a really tough year simply because of their location or the type of operation that they are,” he said.

“Now that the Government has had a chance to sit back and look where the real need is, I think there is an opportunity for them to be a bit more bespoke in how they tailor responses for individual premises, not just a blanket.

“It’s about trying to keep as many of our businesses afloat, because you can’t save jobs if you don’t save businesses.”

Horne said continuing to waive liquor licence fees for struggling venues would not “necessarily be the different between someone surviving and not surviving”, but it would provide some relief.

“We’re not looking at tens of thousands of dollars with these fees, but if you’re a freestanding independent bottle shop you’re probably looking at $2500 a year and if you’re a small bar or a small pub you’re looking at somewhere around $900 a year,” he said.

The Federal Government is set to wind back JobKeeper payments on March 28.

Sugar nightclub owner Driller Jet Armstrong said he would “definitely” seek to have his liquor licence waived for a second year, after his Rundle Street venue was forced to shut during the height of the pandemic and has since been open at a reduced capacity.

Armstrong said under his recently-approved COVID management plan, he is only allowed to accept a maximum of 106 patrons every night – regardless of how long they spend at his venue.

Sugar’s usual capacity is 225 people at one time.

If the Government does not provide him an exemption, Armstrong’s liquor licence would cost him $15,531 next financial year – up from the approximate $3000 he paid before the State Government’s contentious liquor licencing reforms were announced in 2019.

“We’re already restricted on numbers so revenue’s not what it should be at this time of year,” he said.

“It would just be shit if we had to pay that $15,000.

“It just wouldn’t work financially.”

Horne said the nightclub sector was “not in any position to seriously look at paying any fees, simply because they’re caught up in the continuing COVID-19 restrictions”.

“Hopefully the criteria is clear and simple and really communicated to those who will continue to need help,” he said.

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