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Closing down the Beer Baron – What happened to democracy?

Written by Michael Carr on June 7, 2011

In a recent string of news stories on The Sydney Morning Herald website and other media, Sydney’s only legal 24-hour liquor service The Beer Baron has been outed to the general public.

Making use of a loophole in liquor laws whereby the sale of alcohol without a license is accepted as long as it is treated as a gift, even receiving written permission from the Office of Liquor, Gaming & Racing with the new-found attention focused on him from the media coverage the office of NSW Tourism and Hospitality Minister George Souris has targeted The Beer Baron aka Jed Clarke, pictured above, a spokesman claiming that he had “brought into disrepute” liquor licensing laws, going on to say that “[Mr Souris] has contacted the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing and he has demanded that they take immediate action to investigate the matter and that an urgent report be provided to him at the earliest opportunity,” the spokesman said.

“If there is a loophole, it will be closed,” they said, a quote to which I’m sure countless Sydney residents have greeted with a sigh of frustration. While I don’t think anyone can defend the fact that the Beer Baron was essentially bypassing the law in much the way corporations evade tax or wealthy pensioners exploit superannuation as a means of securing a pension despite being more than well off, if put to a vote, I think we would see his business legitimised.

Sure, alcohol delivery is hardly the most sound way of selling booze, think about how many times you bought grog underage off a similar service albeit one that operated before midnight, but that’s not really the point here. The point is the 24 hour delivery of alcohol is seen as unsavoury, or more true to the facts, the Beer Baron has made George Souris look like a fool and will therefore feel the weight of his democratically bestowed power.

However is there not a point where a government enforcing laws that the people disagree with therefore ceases to be a democracy and becomes some sort of elected oppressor? To quote former New York Mayor Fiorello Laguardia speaking on prohibition in 1937 “prohibition cannot be enforced for the simple reason that the majority of American people do not want it enforced and are resisting it’s enforcement. That being so the orderly thing to do under our form of government is to abolish a law which cannot be enforced, a law that the people of the country don’t want enforced.” I think this is very relevant to the current situation.

There seems to be some general aversion to 24 hour trading of any kind within the government. We have it, but there seems to be a constant stream of restrictions flowing downhill from elected officials, seemingly more concerned with offending the puritanical minority who oppose it on moral or religious grounds.

True there are plenty of cases of alcohol and drug fueled violence surrounding 24 hour establishments, but when everyone who wants to drink after 12 get’s funneled into the same few venues, what do you expect. Restriction, in a lot of cases and certainly in the case of alcohol (prohibition serving a pretty indisputable case study), tends to exacerbate the activity it seeks to restrict because all it does is regulate and action and not the desire to undertake it. It’s the equivalent of telling someone with pneumonia to just bloody well stop coughing. What Sydney needs is more establishments where you can drink after twelve.

Kings Cross is often held up as an example of how binge drinking and anti-social behaviour in Sydney are rising as more late trading venues open up, but what do you expect to happen in a city with a growing population where there are for the most part only a handful of suburbs the exist to serve our population’s obvious need for drink and entertainment. If you want to curb alcohol fueled violence in the Cross, the best way to do so would be to open some more 24 hour licensed venues in other suburbs so that the intolerable over crowding of it and other areas like Oxford St can be eased.

Government policy on such matters is nothing if not short sighted, our population doing nothing but growing and our love of the drink following suit. Living in a city like Sydney where on a Saturday night it’s next to impossible to find a reasonably priced decent bar in central Sydney that isn’t packed to gills with drunken visitors from the Western Suburbs who can be less the friendly when they’ve had a few, a service like the Beer Baron is indispensable and utterly necessary. Having used his services many times, I can say I have most often called him when things on the street have gotten too intense, and in an effort to avoid being glassed by some vascular freak my friends and I have chosen to go home and have some relaxed drinks for the very reason that we can… ‘call the Beer Baron.’ What does that mean for people like my friends and I then now the service may be shut down? Must we choose between abandoning our plans to have fun and let loose on the weekend or brave the sweaty heaving mass that is Sydney’s bar scene after 12am on a weekend.

The Beer Baron I will go so far to say is one of only things helping to curb alcohol related violence in this city, and if our politicians were anything more than reactionary populists more concerned with approval ratings than positive change or social progress they’d have seen that. I don’t mean to say that this city’s love of alcohol isn’t somewhat worrying, my own drinking is a regular concern, but it is a reality, and the current position of little tolerance and restriction is untenable and foolish.

To show your support for the Beer Baron sign up here in support of 24 hour take away alcohol here.

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