Scuttlebutt

The South Australian State Government is in a curious embrace with the influential city liquor industry lobby, as well as a sex industry that seeks to expand bedroom entertainment trader growth on the city’s southern fringes.

The South Australian State Government is in a curious embrace with the influential city liquor industry lobby, as well as a sex industry that seeks to expand bedroom entertainment trader growth on the city’s southern fringes.

It’s fascinating that a government that is keen to ensure the city’s development as a residential growth hub, reflecting a similar ‘family ambiance’ as that of the suburbs, appears to be encouraging two industries that don’t have much to do with such ambiance – except, perhaps, casual jobs in late-night venues and rubbing shoulders with bouncers.

On the hotels and nightclubs front recent statements by just-retired Police Commissioner, Mal Hyde, very clearly highlighted that there is major tension between those that profit from late-night or all-night liquor trading and those who have to manage the subsequent confrontations on the footpaths, or the bloody and often aggressive dramas in hospital casualty wards. That a police commissioner had been prompted to make public statements because politicians were shy about confronting the source of major social problems identified by government agencies highlighted the liquor industry’s city grip on both sides of parliament. It is further tightened by the fact that the influential Property Council (SA) is adding its heavy duty weight, actively lobbying for “24/7 visitor and entertainment facilities in key city precincts”. In a strategic plan it wrote for Town Hall, which Town Hall never asked for, this aspiration is recommended six times. Clearly, it is not talking gift shops.

Town Hall’s people, however, have actively lobbied to put the brake on more pubs and nightclubs and expanded trading hours, but telling events show how governments can filibuster when it is in their interest to do so. For example, for several emotion-frustrated years Town Hall has been pushing for change to the planning rules for liquor-licensed places: limiting the number of high capacity venues allowed to trade in parts of the city, closing them no later than 3am, better managing service of alcohol and getting additional powers for the police. Town Hall even provided the then Rann Government with a late-night licensed premises development plan amendment proposal that would have limited what is currently a city hoteliers’ spree. There are currently 12 city bars and nightclubs licensed to trade 24/7, mainly in the West End. Town Hall reports: ‘These are large premises which can facilitate a culture of binge drinking…’. But the government sat on this plan for two long years and recently it commenced its own ‘review’ of liquor licensing. A measure of the half-hearted tokenism, which it applies to this trader group, was its attempt to use annual licensing fees to pressure operators to reduce late hours trading, but only a few days of industry lobbying was necessary to prompt the government to very quickly water down the fee schedule. The backdown spoke volumes.

Meanwhile, in June the government-funded Stadium Management Authority applied for 24-hour, seven-day liquor trading at Adelaide Oval. The absurd prospect of drinkers gazing at an empty oval all night and into the dawn only served to highlight that an alternative commercial agenda exists there, but the SMA claims it is not poker machines. If it gets the trading hours it wants, it will put the government’s two-year stalling of Town Hall’s plan into much clearer political context.

On the sex industry front, euphemistically described as ‘adult services and product premises/adult entertainment premises’, something equally telling recently emerged. The government’s major revision of the city’s development plan reveals that while such places were non-complying development in the city, under the old plan they complied – exclusively – in O’Connell Street, North Adelaide. Town Hall has lobbied since November 2010 to have this inconsistency removed, but the government wants more, not less. Its new plan, released in a ministerial fait accompli in March, now states that such places comply ‘on merit’ along South Terrace, along the edges of Whitmore and Hurtle Squares and down Sturt and Halifax Streets. Town Hall asks: ‘It is not clear what is unique about these areas that justifies these land uses being possibly established in these locations in the future, particularly given that the areas in 2012 are primarily residential areas with some commercial uses and both areas are envisaged for increased residential growth.’

Of course, Town Hall is applying a logic that has no currency where the big boys play as they exert pressure on government policy-makers to have a broader choice of sites in which to operate their ‘businesses’. Town Hall can only imagine the pressures being applied in the back rooms – but they are clearly having effect. Such developments are a further refinement of Premier Weatherill’s traditional ‘announce and defend’ model. There are no announcements, and if the media doesn’t probe, a public defence isn’t necessary.

– Sir Montefiore Scuttlebutt

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