Liquor Accord secretary Chris Bell awarded for over a decade's service

From left: Licensing Sergeant John Lawrie, NVLA secretary Chris Bell receiving her service award, and Local Area Command Detective Inspector Guy Flaherty presenting the award.
From left: Licensing Sergeant John Lawrie, NVLA secretary Chris Bell receiving her service award, and Local Area Command Detective Inspector Guy Flaherty presenting the award.

Few know what the Liquor Accord is or what it does, but it has been making the valley’s licensed venues a safer place for locals for over a decade. 

And one woman who has quietly been at the forefront of it all since its 2004 reincarnation is Chris Bell.

Chris is the Nambucca Valley Liquor Accord (NVLA) secretary and was presented a service award at this week’s meeting by Detective Inspector Guy Flaherty in honour of her nearly 14 years of dedication to the Accord.

“Her contribution has significantly helped to reduce liquor-related harm to the local community,” Detective Inspector Flaherty said.

Not one to be in the limelight, Chris appeared a little embarrassed by the attention.

“But it is nice to think that people notice the work that goes into running an accord,” Chris said.

But what is it?

The NVLA is a voluntary partnership made up of 25 members (licensees) from each licensed venue in the Nambucca Shire, police, and various community groups and governing bodies.

It was reestablished in June 2004 after increased support was offered by police and Liquor and Gaming NSW.

“Local Area Command have been fantastic. We have a great rapport with our licensing sergeants,” Chris said.

The Accord and its decisions are supported by the Liquor Act 2007.

The Nambucca Heads RSL club were the instigators in getting the Accord off the ground again. As the largest licensed premises in the shire, they were often considered the fount of knowledge that other licensees would turn to for ideas in handling alcohol-fuelled issues.

The Accord holds meetings and liaises with local area command police and licensing sergeants four times per year to discuss legislation compliance requirements, training and workshops, and strategies to keep venues a friendly place for everyone.

These meetings act as the primary networking tool between licencees in the valley.

What does the Liquor Accord actually do?

The Accord upholds several principles including the responsible service of alcohol, improvement of safety, a commitment to being good neighbours, and active cooperation with the police and the community.

The Accord has been successful in implementing alcohol-free zones in certain public places when the need arose.

It has also been a participant of state and national alcohol and violence campaigns such as ‘Enough is Enough’ and ‘Supply means Supply’.

One licensee said at the meeting that when dealing with intoxicated patrons, being able to reference the Accord rather than the Liquor Act made his life easier.

“It’s so handy now, rather than go through the whole process and having to state the part of the Liquor Act that they’ve breached, I just bar them under the Accord,” the licensee said.

Get banned from one pub, and you could see yourself barred from all Nambucca watering holes under a new policy.

The Accord recently issued in a new Multi-Venue Barring (MVB) process in which serious assaults are recorded and offenders can be served with a blanket ban across the valley’s licensed premises for 3 months to 3 years. 

“I think that the MVB is our greatest outcome to date,” Chris said.

The MVB committee was formed in October in 2014 and comprises four licensees who meet to discuss serious offences to decide whether to impose the valley-wide ban on offending patrons. 

The licensee at the venue where the offence occurred is responsible for bringing the incidents to the Liquor Accord meetings.

The committee will then examine a police report, whether a conviction was recorded, and CCTV footage before a recommendation is made to Licensing Sergeant John Lawrie, who issues the barring notice to the trouble-maker.

The MVB has been in operation for almost 2 years and at present the committee is processing two cases.

In December last year, an off-duty officer was assaulted at the Star hotel in Macksville when he tried to intervene in a brawl.

And earlier this year, a staff member of the Nambucca Heads Bowls club was coward-punched by a patron and police are ready to serve his multi-barring notice.

Topics discussed at this week’s meeting were wide-ranging but included the distribution of specialised coasters sporting an anti-domestic violence message.

A Drink Safe education night run by Senior Constable Stephen Cherry was on offer to licensees. The program includes the use of ‘beer goggles’ to accurately reflect the visual effects of different levels of intoxication.

The Accord was given a heads up by Licensing Sergeant John Lawrie about impending 3-day routine surveillance operations which involve police walk-throughs, drink-drive testing and the dog squad.

"Licensees generally like that visual of a walk-through because it gives the patrons a sense of security,” Chris said.

“What we want more than anything is for patrons to be able to enjoy the ambience of our venues.

“If you’ve got nothing to hide, then you’ve got nothing to fear.”

Local Area Command also cautioned the Accord to be vigilant after a recent spike in underage drinking offences was recorded.

Detective Inspector Guy Flaherty said while only four cases were recorded between May and July of 2016, there have been 15 in the same period of 2017, with eight recorded in licensed venues.

The police also reminded licensees that extra support was available should they need it for any upcoming events in the valley such as Mad Monday after footy finals and the Bowra Cup.