Casula residents achieve small victory against large pub proposal

Celebrating people power is the theme of this week’s top story on GrogWatch, which comes from Casula community leader Criss Moore, of Casula Community Group for Responsible Planning Inc.  

In May 2014, GrogWatch congratulated the community of Casula for taking the initiative to prevent alcohol and gambling-related harms occurring within the western Sydney suburb.

Since this time the local community has accomplished some remarkable achievements against stiff odds in opposing the unwelcomed imposition of a large late trading pub with 30 pokies in their relatively quiet and peaceful neighbourhood.

Since August 2014 there was no longer a funded Alcohol Community Action Project (ACAP) to provide invaluable support to disaffected NSW communities like Casula to promote a more level playing field and ensure people have a fair say on all liquor-related decisions impacting upon them. This gap needs to be urgently filled.

The Casula community gained an unprecedented expression of concern from both the Upper and Lower Houses of NSW Parliament.

During their struggle, the Casula community has had to contend with the local police’s support for the pub and stubborn refusal to supply, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), details of the proponent’s apparent poor compliance record with some other licensed venues they control, including the equal most violent premise in NSW. The police ruled that the business interests of the pub proponent outweighed that of public interest and safety. They even refused to release under FOI the information they relied upon to make this judgement.

In late September 2014, Liverpool City Council officers recommended to the organisation’s Independent Hearing and Assessment Panel (IHAP) that despite receiving around 2000 community objections and only one letter of support, it endorse the pub development and trial 2am extended closing.

Pleasingly, IHAP – after hearing from community representatives including Drs Crozier and McDonald – unanimously rejected (5-0) the council officers’ recommendations, citing the likely negative social impact of the proposed development on the surrounding community.

Liverpool councillors may determine the development application later this month. Hanging over the heads of the elected council and community members is the ubiquitous threat of a court appeal by a cashed-up proponent. Even if the pub proponent is ultimately successful, they still require the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority’s (ILGA) separate liquor license approval. ILGA has more recently shown a refreshing responsiveness to strong and informed community opposition.

This case provides substantial hope to similar communities across the country that they can make a difference to achieve alcohol harm prevention with a combination of people power and the provision of free ongoing expert guidance and encouragement.