Rural liquor inspectors abolished

Richard Willingham

In an overhaul of the state’s alcohol and gaming authorities, Victoria’s  regions will have no dedicated liquor inspectors, a move that has enraged police  and others trying to curb alcohol abuse in the country.

Last year liquor and gambling regulation was merged into the Victorian  Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation.  Its inspectors were briefed on  Tuesday about the plan for 56 inspectors to cover both activities. Inspectors  now work solely in one area. They will have to apply for the new jobs.

All staff will be based in Richmond but will travel to the country.

From 2009 there were up to 12 dedicated regional inspectors  in Geelong,  Bendigo, Ballarat, Wangaratta, Morwell and Mildura – now there are just  five.

Last year a damning Auditor-General’s report found alcohol-related violence  and health problems cost the state $4.3 billion each year. Over a decade  assaults rose by 49 per cent,  ambulance callouts tripled and there was an 87  per cent jump in drunk people being treated at hospitals.

Insiders say abolishing regional inspectors will allow venues to ”run  rampant” because local knowledge and relationships with police and local  councils will be lost. Staff say relationships with key groups, such as sports  clubs, in rural areas were critical in  combating underage drinking. One said   there was a clear difference between metro and rural venues with ”a country  approach” needed to deal with regional publicans.

Police Association Victoria secretary Greg Davies said the changes were of  great concern to police and  public, with police likely to pick up the  slack.

”Our members barely have the time now to do what is expected,” Mr Davies  said.

Inspectors were invaluable in tackling alcohol-related problems such as  assaults, car accidents and domestic violence, he said.

Sam Biondo, executive officer of the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association,  said the move would not contribute to building up understanding of local  circumstance. ”This social problem has huge impact on the Victorian community  and given there is no shortage of taxation revenue,  that there should be a  shortfall in the regulation of it does not make sense,”  he said.

The commission said it  would work with police and local authorities to carry  out inspections in line with the commission’s risk-based and intelligence-led  strategy.

”The proposed structure provides a statewide service delivery model in which  positions are Melbourne-based, and will allow for greater flexibility in  allocating resources determined by risk assessment,” it said.

Parliamentary secretary to the shadow minister for police and emergency  services Jane Garrett said it was clear the Napthine government had ”botched  the amalgamation and abandoned regional Victoria in the process”.

”This government should be attacking alcohol-fuelled issues  … instead of  putting up the white flag and pocketing the change,” Ms Garrett said.

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