UPDATE May 7: APPOINTMENT OF NEW DIRECTOR OF LIQUOR LICENSING - Government press release, new Director Mark Brennan starts work May 8. See May 2010 links page for more articles.

MacLellan has gone now, but I’ll leave this page as it was for information purposes.

Remove Sue campaign

Sue MacLellan's Got To Go - Hey Hey, Ho Ho

Sue MacLellan, Director Of Liquor Licensing, is an independent statutory authority and so is not obliged to do what the Government wants. Also, the Government can't sack her. The 1998 liquor law gives her enormous powers—she can basically do whatever she wants to licensees. Please see my Sue MacLellan page for more background on her role.

Her five year term apparently expires late April, 2010. I say "apparently" because it is impossible to find out what is actually going on—funny how the Government makes it hard to get accurate information about services funded by the public purse. Here is the press release for her appointment 5 years ago: First female head of Liquor Licensing in Victoria appointed.

No-one, not even Sue MacLellan, denies her regulations have done serious damage to music in Victoria, and will continue to do so if she is not stopped.

Many people, including myself, would say she is an unfit person to have such extensive powers, and she should not be re-appointed, and that a system that allows such a person to be in this position is flawed and must change.

Here's why…

1. Prejudice
On March 9 this year music representatives attended a seminar where Sue MacLellan spoke. After formalities these representatives had an informal chat with her, and afterwards wrote notes of their accounts of the conversation. When I refer to the March 9 meeting I am referring to these accounts.

One thing MacLellan said was that when she was growing up she used to see bands such as Skyhooks and Split Enz in pubs in her country town, and she saw lots of violence. Is this why she is coming down so hard on music venues?

Perhaps she doesn't realise the music scene has evolved in the past 30 years, and if this is the case, she should realise it has, as she has been given the power to destroy innocent people's businesses, livelihoods and culture, and it's not right that she is exercising it with gusto while choosing to remain ignorant of what she is dealing with (she said in the March 9 meeting that culture is the Government's area, not her's).

2. Stupidity
Saying a quiet, peaceful, licensed venue has to employ 2 expensive security guards if a folk singer plays in the afternoon to 3 people is plain stupid. Surely this regulation doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. Yet this is exactly what MacLellan is enforcing in her crackdown.

Oh and this afternoon folk singer performance must have two security guards if the venue trades to 3am or later (even just two nights a week), but in most cases not if the venue has a 1am licence. Figure that one out.

Even though MacLellan has agreed since the Feb 22 Live Music Accord to allow some licensees to apply for exemption to this licence condition, the fact that it took a rally of 20,000 people in the city, and many, many people freely giving their time and resources to bring about this slight backdown says something is seriously wrong with Maclellan and the system that has put this unaccountable public servant in authority.

3. Negligence
MacLellan uses the term "unintended consequences" to describe the ludicrous folk singer situation described above. She may have not intended this consequence of her regulations, but by law she can change any licence condition at her discretion, and despite being frequently alerted about these consequences during 2009, she failed to act, and continues to fail to act, to ensure innocent business owners and musicians are not hurt. The Tote, for example.

This is sheer negligence of duty to members of the community. If MacLellan has the power to destroy businesses and the creative endeavours that go on in them, she surely, in a civilised society, has a duty of care to ensure she is not hurting innocent people.

4. Lazy thinking
Many licensed venues have to provide security guards and cameras if they have music playing, yet there is no evidence that music causes violence. The high risk licence conditions, saying that security must be provided if music plays any day of the week or time of day, are slapped on venues only because they trade after 1am, in most cases, without any regard for behaviour of patrons.

The practice of linking music with security conditions started in the late 90s when the liquor licensing people of the time were looking for a reason to tell some venues in King Street they had to provide security measures.

Making the presence of music the risk factor was the easy option at the time—surely by now a more sophisticated approach is called for, where the cultural value provided by premises and the behaviour of patrons are both taken into account (not to mention the time of day), especially as high risk conditions are now being applied across Victoria, not just in King Street.

Instead we are seeing MacLellan going for the lazy option, where all post-1am premises cop the same old invalid risk factor of music being played… any type of music, to any type of audience, at any time of day.

5. More lazy thinking
Bruce Milne, Tote director, sat with MacLellan and tried explaining why the high risk conditions he'd had imposed on him were wrong, saying: “Look. You can’t call it a high risk venue if I’ve run it for nine years and we’ve had no reports of violence. The police have never had a problem with us. You can go to Collingwood cops and look at the report on The Tote and you’ll find an empty file.” She looked at him and said “You’re ignoring all our research and data.”

After relating this to the author of this article, he goes on to say "I can’t argue with that. Then I got a copy of it. Because they automatically say that live music venues are the same as nightclubs, they’ve lobbed The Tote in with some 3000-capacity dance club in South Melbourne. They may as well put chemist shops in there as well… because it makes about as much sense."

Any even vaguely intelligent person can see that either this research MacLellan is using is flawed, or she's interpreting it subjectively to suit her purpose. As she is, I think, a person with a strong intellect, I can only conclude she couldn't be bothered looking at the high risk conditions more closely. More lazy thinking.

6. Nonsense… "Just doing her job"?
MacLellan is fond of saying she is just doing her job. She said the following to radio 774's Jon Faine when he asked her about people being upset with her over the damage done to music venues: "I'm not a politician, I'm a public servant doing my job". It's almost at the end of the interview.

Faine went on to say "people should never target someone who is just doing their job", apparently unaware on January 22 that the licence conditions that are damaging music venues are legally up to MacLellan's discretion, and she freely admits she can change them if she wants. To music representatives at the March 9 meeting she said: “I don’t answer to any government, I’m a statutory appointee and yes I can use my discretion”, when talk turned to licence conditions.

She also said at the March 9 meeting that she was just exercising the Government's policy. She does want it both ways.

The following is from minutes of the February 10 meeting between John Brumby's people and music people:

'Brumby said the government would “ask the Liquor Licensing director to take a more common sense approach”. He pointed out she is a statutory officer and that the government couldn't order her about. He suggested she should be more accommodating to music venues.'

Saying she is just doing her job is a nonsense, in this context. It implies you are an employee doing what your employer tells you to, whereas MacLellan is independent of government or anyone else. She must take responsibility for her decisions. Saying she is "just doing her job" is no different to any ruthless dictator of some country saying they are "just doing their job".

7. Smear and a targeted campaign
At the March 9 meeting, music representatives asked MacLellan about the Tote. They say she "went into overdrive, she said it was 'poorly run' and had '15 pages of non compliance issues against its name'."

When asked if the non compliance issues applied to the past 12 months or for a longer period, she said they were from the past 3 years. Bruce Milne, Tote director, has since denied this, saying these items came from the past 10 months rather than 3 years. I know who I believe.

This 10 months corresponds to the period of his various battles with Liquor Licensing, over firstly having himself approved as director, then over the licence conditions requiring him to employ security guards whenever music played, even on a quiet afternoon.

That there was a sudden burst of 15 pages of non compliance issues on the Tote's record over this period surely smells of a targeted campaign against him. The approval of director issue stemmed from Liquor Licensing's failure to pick up what was basically a paperwork error made two years previously, and that the security guards issue existed at all speaks volumes about MacLellan (see the folk singer item above, point 2).

Yet MacLellan saw fit at the March 9 meeting to smear Bruce Milne to the music representatives, by saying the non compliance reports covered 3 years rather than 12 months, using what was rather obviously the results of a targeted campaign against the Tote along the way.

Apart from the smear, how does running a nasty, targeted campaign for no useful reason against a business owner who ran a great music venue fit in a place like Victoria? To quote notes written by music representatives present at the March 9 meeting… "a serious misuse of power has been demonstrated". And "we are furious".

For more information on an alleged campaign against the Tote, including how Liquor Licensing Victoria allegedly leaned on the local council to pursue the pub, see Brumby’s backflip on live music could claim Maclellan, on Crikey.

8. Untruths
The closure of the Tote brought lots of media attention, and MacLellan responded with some statements. The following two are, shall we say, less than truthful…

"The Tote has a history of not complying with the conditions on its liquor licence as documented to me by the police [see targeted campaign item above], including crowd controllers not using counters to ensure the venue was not overcrowded."

"The Tote has not incurred costs of implementing high risk conditions to date because the licensee agreed at VCAT to trading hours of 1am instead of 3am until the matter could be heard in full."

That MacLellan could make the second statement in particular is breathtaking, given Tote director Bruce Milne's huge costs of complying with high risk conditions on his licence issued July 2009. He also had to fork out legal fees for visiting VCAT to be allowed to trade to 1am rather than 3am, so he could be relieved of the requirement for security guards any time music played, and even after that he still had to employ security guards whenever music played.

Please see my page Sue MacLellan on The Tote for a more detailed response to MacLellan's statements.

As far as I am concerned, MacLellan has either been deliberately lying here or has been monumentally incompetent and irresponsible when making her statements. It's not like the Tote case was low profile. Exactly who is she accountable to?

9. Lack of logic, and the "level playing field"
When the owner of the Greek Deli and Taverna in Chapel St South Yarra was told August 2009 he had to employ two expensive security guards when two musicians played, he naturally met with Sue MacLellan. "I had the director here and she said we've got to have a level playing field across the state" he said, according to this article.

So this peaceful, restaurant-style premises employing two musicians to play Greek folk music has the same security conditions formula as a large crowded night club, and MacLellan describes this fact as having "a level playing field”?

This situation clearly has nothing to do with a "level playing field", and to say it does is nuts. Ensuring a "level playing field" is something we might want to do if different parties are competing, and we want the competition to be fair. Does MacLellan seriously think The Greek Deli and Taverna is competing with the large nightclubs? And that it's her job to make sure the competition is fair?

The only thing a one size fits all regulation like this does is cut down the workload of the liquor licensing people.

MacLellan also said the following in a statement: "All late-night licensees are subject to the same conditions to minimise potential risks associated with these types of venues and are required to pay the higher liquor licensing fees." See this in context towards the end of this page.

Again we have a justification for all premises having the same conditions that is nonsensical. How does minimising potential risks associated with the venues result from all venues having the same licence conditions as each other? These two parts of MacLellan's sentence just don't go together, and I personally find it very difficult to even read it.

Anyway, every weekend there is violence in the areas that already have all the security measures in place, and the places MacLellan is clamping down on and sending broke are the ones that don't have violence. Lack of logic.

10. Immaturity
Sue MacLellan is in my opinion a highly educated and extremely intellectual dill who is used to hiding in her ivory twin towers of academia and the public service and clearly is not up to the job of administering the mixed bunch that is liquor licensees with fairness and insight.

And she needs to grow up. The harm she has done, and continues to do, to innocent people has been enormous, yet she is upset by the things people have been saying about her.

It's a generally accepted part of political life that less-than-flattering cartoons can appear in the paper, and all sorts of things might get said about you. MacLellan is not a politician, but is in the unusual position in a democracy of being a dictator with the power to destroy businesses at her discretion. Music representatives recall her saying at the March 9 meeting: "I don’t answer to any government, I’m a statutory appointee and yes I can use my discretion".

So when crude jokes appeared on a media outfit's discussion threads (which she has difficulty distinguishing from editorial) and she was offended, and when the Inpress cover upset her (Tony Robinson told music people she was upset), my sympathies were nil. If she believes she can do so much to hurt innocent people and not cop any flak she really is off with the fairies.

Twenty thousand people marching at the SLAM rally in the city believed MacLellan had it wrong. The few thousand who gathered at the Tote rally did too. As do the various music representatives who have been meeting with authorities since this affair started blowing up in 2009. So have the many, many other people who have freely given their time, effort and resources to fight MacLellan's insanity.

I haven't seen or heard of anyone who supports what she is doing, apart from her staff. Not a journalist covering the story, and not even the Government by this stage (the end of March), really, from what I can gather. Certainly no other political party.

To pick out the sign in the SLAM rally crowd "I want to get pissed at the Tote again" as support for her actions, as she did at the March 9 meeting, is a tad superficial, surely. She's not demonstrating the level of sophistication I would expect of a person with her extensive powers.

So MacLellan marches on, blinkered and determined. Has she ever wondered whether she's got it wrong? It shouldn't be left to her to decide.

Please consider campaigning in some way to stop Sue MacLellan being reappointed when her term finishes, and to have Victoria's Liquor Licensing restructured so one unaccountable person is not given so much power. Writing to MPs and spreading the word on your networks are both good.

You are welcome to join Music Doesn't Make You Violent's Facebook page, and have your say about all this there.

Believe me, I would really rather not have written up this page. But every time I thought of not doing it, I thought of the innocent business owners who have had or are having their businesses destroyed, and the long term ramifications for music in Victoria, and I couldn’t bear not to.

As I write this I have heard the Government are working on restructuring Liquor Licensing in some way.

UPDATE: This April 2 article: Liquor licensing boss left high, dry reports:

"Sue Maclellan, director of Liquor Licensing Victoria, is expected to be the first casualty of the Victorian government's decision to merge liquor licensing and gambling regulators.

Ms Maclellan's five-year term ends in five weeks and a senior government source said she would not be making the transition to the new joint regulatory body."

This is nice, but the restructure isn't going to be complete until some time in 2011, so it's still possible the Government may be intending to keep MacLellan where she is till then.

~ Robin