BALLARAT’S licensed venues are going largely unchecked by the official government authority since staff were moved from regional Victoria to Melbourne, say two former local liquor inspectors.
Concerns have been raised after the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR) changed how it conducts compliance in September last year.
As part of moving to a “risk-based, intelligence-led compliance model”, liquor inspectors are no longer based in regional areas and instead operate from the commission’s head office in Richmond.
Under the new VCGLR model the state is divided into regions, each of which is assigned inspectors.
However former VCGLR compliance inspectors Stephen Jerman and James Robson say inspections have “all but ground to a halt” in Ballarat since the change, with only high-risk venues attracting scrutiny.
After being made redundant as the Grampians inspectors in July last year, Mr Jerman and James Robson now operate a liquor industry consultancy.
Since then they have kept a close eye on what venues are doing to stay compliant.
“Potential rogue operators in the liquor industry are being left unchecked,” said Mr Jerman.
Between 2009 and 2012, Mr Jerman said the pair would perform 1200 liquor inspections in the Grampians each year, as well as at least 10 “special operations” targeting high-risk events such as the Ballarat Cup and O-week.
That number halved to 600 inspections in 2012-13 due to budget cuts, he said, before dropping even further.
With the changes at the VCGLR, Mr Jerman said he would be surprised if there had been more than “30 or 40” inspections in Ballarat since July 2013.
“Most inspections are now conducted in the metropolitan areas of Melbourne,” he said.
Mr Jerman said much of the legwork was being done by Victoria Police to ensure venues were being compliant.
A Victoria Police spokesperson declined to say if police resources were being stretched but did say inspections and operations were regularly conducted at venues in Ballarat.
Mr Jerman also claimed that letters were being sent to licensees at major events warning of potential liquor inspections which do not actually happen.
“It appears that, in terms of liquor compliance, Victoria finishes at the metropolitan boundaries,” Mr Jerman said.
Among other things, liquor inspectors check if venues are trading unlicensed, if underage or drunk patrons are being served or whether staff have completed responsible service of alcohol training.
Last night The Courier put a list of claims to a VCGLR spokesperson, who responded with a one-line email saying they were incorrect.
When asked how many inspections the VCGLR had conducted in the Grampians in 2012-13, and 2013-14, a spokesperson provided statewide figures for “compliance activities” which also include audits, risk management discussions and education.