Update: Changes to Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 from 15 March 2022

The Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (the Commission) recently announced that from 15 March 2022 a second wave of changes to the Liquor Control Reform Act 1998 (LCRA) will come into effect in accordance with the recently passed Liquor Control Reform Amendment Act 2021 (the Amendment).

As you may recall, the State Government passed amendments to the LCRA that resulted in a myriad of different changes to the industry and licensing structures, but had not set down the dates when these changes would actually come into effect. Some of the first changes that came into effect on 15 December 2021 included the abolition of ‘dry areas’ in Victoria.

The key changes that will come into effect as and from 15 March 2022 are as follows:

Expanding activities permitted under club licences

Holders of a restricted or full club licence will be able to supply liquor to non-members at club events or private functions.

The intention of this is to eliminate the need for club licence holders to have a renewable limited licence for these events – which many clubs do so. This will result in clubs being able to surrender these renewable limited licences to reduce unnecessary administration for clubs.

Expanding activities permitted under restaurant and café licences

Holders of a restaurant and café licence will be able to supply one 750ml bottle of wine or one six-pack of 375ml cans/bottles of beer, cider or pre-mix with a takeaway or home-delivered meal intended for consumption by an adult. This supply of takeaway packaged liquor can only occur during ordinary trading hours and only in conjunction with a takeaway or home delivered meal.

This change will be applied to existing and future restaurant and café licences and eliminates the need for restaurant and café licence holders to operate a separate renewable limited licence in order to supply liquor with takeaway or home-delivered meals. The Commission will contact licensees who hold existing renewable limited licences to seek confirmation about those licences being surrendered. In addition, licensees will need to complete a notification to the Commission before they start supplying packaged liquor online – this is discussed further below.

This does not apply to the holders of on-premises licences, only restaurant and café licences.

Automatic extension to 1am for certain licence categories – subject to planning permission being in place

The permitted trading hours for the on-premises supply and consumption of liquor under the following categories of licences will be automatically extended to 1am on every day of the week (subject to the important caveat below that the venue must also have the planning permission for the extension of hours):

  • Restaurant and café;
  • Late night (on-premises);
  • On-premises;
  • Late night (general); and
  • General.

The Commission has confirmed that these categories of licences will automatically have their trading hours extended and that this extension will not require licensees to seek further approval from the Commission.

The extension does not apply to off premises trading hours, and importantly it also does not override any trading hours on your planning permit or footpath trading permit for your premises. We suggest all venues that may be granted the extension of hours check their current planning permissions for any hours conditions. Those hours conditions must still be complied with despite the automatic extension of hours on the liquor licence. It will be necessary to apply for an amendment to your planning permit to increase your trading hours so that your planning permit is consistent with any automatic extension on your liquor licence, prior to the venue being able to commence trading with those hours.

Some venues may not have planning permits (being as of right uses or have existing use rights) or have planning permits that do not have specific hours conditions. If so they are able to take immediate advantage of extension in trading hours. We provide further detail in relation to planning issues for the extended hours below. If you have any queries in respect of the planning permissions for your venue please contact us to discuss.

Further, in a statement published by the Commission they have stated that the automatic extension does not apply to ‘specific areas of a licensed premises that have different trading hours, which are separate to the overall trading hours of the premises, such as a beer garden or balcony area’. This caveat does not form part of the changes to the LCRA and raises many questions about the effectiveness of the changes. We will await further information from the Commission about how these extensions will take place.

New standard conditions to apply to all licensees supplying liquor online

New licence conditions will require any licensees supplying liquor online to display their liquor licence number prominently on their website or any other interface on which liquor orders may be placed.

Licensees will also have to ensure that liquor is not delivered after ordinary trading hours, and must provide adequate instructions to the delivery person.

Requirement to notify the Commission before starting to supply liquor online or packaged liquor with takeaway or home-delivered meals

As most licensees would be aware, all liquor licences that contain ‘off premises’ trading hours are presently capable of being used to supply liquor for delivery that is ordered online, as well as by takeaway from the premises. This includes licensees with general licences, full club licences (although restricted to members only) and packaged liquor licensees.

From 15 March 2022 there will be a new requirement to ‘notify’ the Commission prior to commencing supply of liquor online. All licensees are required to notify the Commission – even if they were already selling liquor in this way before 15 March 2022.

Holders of restaurant and café licences must also notify the Commission before starting to supply packaged liquor together with takeaway or home-delivered meals as part of the new conditions on their licences.

As best we understand at this stage, this will require a written notification and will not require any formal ‘approval’. As with many aspects of the LCRA, it is likely introduced to improve accountability of licensees and improve the Commission’s internal record-keeping. Licensees will receive correspondence from the Commission advising of what they need to do.

Changes to liquor advertising or promotions that are not in the public interest

The Commission already has the power to ban any liquor advertising or promotion that is likely to encourage irresponsible consumption of liquor or is otherwise not in the public interest.

From 15 March 2022, changes to the Act will clarify that liquor advertising or promotions that are not in the public interest include those that are likely to appeal to minors, likely to encourage or condone violence or anti-social behaviour, directly or indirectly sexual, degrading or sexist, or prescribed by regulations as advertising or promotion that is not in the public interest.

Revised Responsible Liquor Advertising and Promotion Guidelines will be published on the Commission’s website.

Planning requirements

As noted above, none of the changes to the LCRA have the power to affect or alter any conditions of any planning permits – as they are issued under separate legislation. This means that every venue will have to review its current planning restrictions to investigate whether any change in planning permission is required in order to utilise the changes to trading hours and/or licence conditions.

Examples of matters to consider may include:

  1. Whether there is an existing planning permit restricting trading hours on all or part of the premises to earlier than 1:00am. The changes to the LCRA would not override these conditions.
  2. If a planning permit in the preamble expressly stipulates that it allows the supply of liquor for ‘consumption on the premises’, then the amendments to the restaurant and café category of licences to include the supply of packaged liquor for ‘off premises’ trading may require further planning permission.
  3. If a planning permit for a club stipulates that the supply of liquor is for ‘members only’ this condition may require amendment to allow for the non-member function conditions to be utilised.

Given that planning permit processes can take many months, it is important for licensees to turn their minds to whether they need to seek planning approval to take the benefit of the expanded trading hours early on.

Club Requirements

In addition to the above, any club licensees should ensure that any of the changes to licence conditions will not be inconsistent with the club rules/constitution presently in force – for instance, if a club’s constitution restricts the supply of liquor to members only, and therefore is inconsistent with the new conditions that allow supply of liquor for non-member functions. For the majority of clubs we do not anticipate this to be an issue, but we would encourage all clubs to audit their approved rules to see if any amendments are required for consistency with the new LCRA.

Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding the particular circumstances of your venue.

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