12 May, 2014 Last updated: 19 Mar, 2015

Councils throughout the state are now better-placed to improve their planning around liquor licensing since the launch of an online map that allows decision-makers to note licence density at a glance and plan accordingly.

Launched in partnership between the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR), VicHealth and the Emergency Services Telecommunications Agency (ESTA), the map presents information on the state's 19,000 individual liquor licences in an interactive online tool that geo-codes the data and presents it in an easy-to-use format.

In addition to allowing local councils, government staff, researchers and community members to search the state's liquor licences by name, address or category, VCGLR's data has also been shared with ESTA to improve its response to emergency calls. "It’s common when people call Triple Zero that they will name a local place or reference point" said ESTA CEO Ken Shymanski. "The more of these 'common place names' we have in our mapping, the easier it is to get help on its way."

More than half (57 per cent) of Triple Zero calls in Victoria are placed on mobile phones, a number that is likely to continue growing. "When a person calls from a mobile phone, ESTA gets no location information with the call and it is very likely that customers in these licenced venues will use their mobile to call 000 and use the name of the establishment instead of the address," said Mr Shymanski. By adding the names of hotels and clubs to ESTA's database, the data contained within the VCGLR map will improve response times to those in need of urgent assistance.

Another goal in developing the tool was to provide better access to data. This enables better council decision-making in relation to licensed venues, which benefits the Victorian community by helping reduce alcohol-related harm.

These developments follow a report tabled by the State’s Auditor-General in June 20121, which found that Victoria’s liquor licensing regime was not effectively minimising alcohol-related harms. Among the contributing factors were a lack of transparency in decision-making, lack of engagement from councils, and poor-quality data. The VCGLR map fulfils the regulator’s commitment to providing more support for local government when it comes to liquor licensing planning decisions.

According to Dr Michael Livingston of Turning Point Drug & Alcohol Centre, "There’s good evidence from Victorian research that increases in the density of alcohol outlets, particularly bottle shops, are associated with increases in alcoholrelated harms such as assault, domestic violence and chronic disease."

Since its launch in December 2013, more than three-quarters of Victorian local government areas use the map for regular data download. A similarly high percentage of respondents among local councils agree that it’s a useful resource and a powerful tool. 

The interactive map has been used extensively by the South East Metro Region Councils Alliance (SEM) in research that addresses the cumulative impact of outlet density and alcohol-related harms. The SEM group consists of Kingston, Casey, Mornington Peninsula, Frankston, Cardinia, Bass Coast and Greater Dandenong.

City of Port Phillip Mayor, Councillor Amanda Stevens, said council officers have found the map extremely useful when demonstrating where there are high densities of licences, and the expected impacts: "For example, areas with a large  number of late night venues have different issues and require different management than those with a high number of prepackaged liquor outlets."

The Whole of Government Alcohol and Drugs Hotspots project is also using the information to improve issues arising from alcohol and drug use in Melbourne, Yarra, Maribyrnong, Brimbank, Stonnington and Port Phillip, which will better target and coordinate services and resources to address these issues.

Developed by the VCGLR and funded by VicHealth, the tool provides a timely illustration of the state’s maturing industry. "Fifteen years ago, there were about 9000 liquor licences across the state," said VCGLR Acting CEO Catherine Myers. "Today, that number has more than doubled to 19,000 (the equivalent of almost two new liquor licences each and every day). There are now 14 variations of a liquor licence, from temporary licences to latenight trading and alcohol producers. So as the industry has grown and become more complex, we have had to move with it."

The map has been useful for Claire Wilkinson, a researcher at the Turning Point Drug & Alcohol Centre who is currently studying a particular licensing law that applies to Whitehorse and Boroondara, two local government areas in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. "I’ve used the map to cut out the actual streets that are governed by this law and looked at the physical locations of those liquor licences," Ms Wilkinson said. "The map has been particularly useful in illustrating the density of liquor licences one side of Burke Road in Camberwell, for example, but not the other side. It has added another way to communicate the story we’re telling, so that it’s easier for people to understand when the data is presented visually."

"The project is a great example of interagency cooperation between the VCGLR, VicHealth and ESTA," said Ms Myers. "It shows that we can achieve great things when several bodies join together, and pool our collective skills, resources and expertise. The project demonstrates innovative and perceptive minds seeing an opportunity, reaching out for it, and creating something entirely new."

Access the liquor licences map at www.geomaps.vcglr.vic.gov.au

1 Victorian Auditor-General’s Report 2012, Effectiveness of Justice Strategies in Preventing and Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm, retrieved March 2014.