Local Option

From Hotels of Ballarat

Local Option was the name given to the process of regulating hotels in Victoria. It was based on the assumption that there were too many hotels, which were causing social problems for the community. Ratepayers were able to vote on the numbers of hotels which would be permitted to operate in their local communities. The Licence Reduction Board would then determine which hotels would be closed, and to pay compensation to the publicans and hotel owners whose businesses were closed.

History[edit | edit source]

An editorial in the Ballarat Star on 23 March 1888 dicussed the issues in detail:

An important issue is to be decided by the votes of the ratepayers in Ballarat town to day. They have in fact to exercise the function conferred upon them by an Act of the last session of Parliament, an Act which was very exhaustively debated by prominent representatives of both sides of the question in the House and out of it, and which was ultimately agreed to as a fair and practicable compromise on a question as to which general agreement was manifestly unobtainable. The matter is one as to which, for various reasons, strong feeling is sure to be evoked, and it may be well to point out at once that the principle of local option as to the number of licensed public houses is, to-day, not in question. The ratepayers of Ballarat East in electing by a majority of votes, recorded in strictly legal form, to raise the question of how many houses shall be licensed in their district for the sale of intoxicating liquor, are simply using the power conferred upon them, under certain conditions, by the legislature of the colony. The question therefore as to whether local option in this, or in any other case, bears hardly or in equitably upon any class of the community is in no way affected by the poll to be taken to-day.

Bearing this in mind we must allow that each side in the contest are fairly at liberty to use every legitimate means to score a win. It is, we believe, almost universally admitted that there is room for a substantial reduction of the present number of licensed liquor bars. This point has been accepted by the House of Assembly, and that chamber acting in the interests of the body of electors, and presumably at the express wish of that body, has adopted a certain proportion between licensed houses and population as a minimum to which, if the ratepayers wish it, they may reduce the number of hotels. The local option clauses, it is important to remember, are enabling clauses only. A limit is fixed below which no popular vote can interfere with licensed houses, but the ratepayers are entrusted with the power of declaring that any excess over this limit shall be discontinued. Even here the matter can only be decided by a majority at the poll. It is simply useless to assume that in local option polls the recorded votes do not usually represent the true majority. If such an assumption were recognised there would be an end to electoral government. The State confers upon all ratepayers the power to lodge a vote for or against, and it is not at all unreasonable to assume that all those who have a decided opinion one way or another will back that opinion at the ballot-box. It is really open to question whether those who are too indolent to exercise their franchise whether at general elections, or in local option polls, deserve to be taken into consideration at all. When a man allows a case at law to go against him in default of an appearance, it is something worse than useless for him to assert privately that he had a good case. The poll to be taken in Ballarat town to-day is simply the outcome of legislation which has been agreed too after much discussion by the representatives of manhood suffrage in Victoria. The machinery of local option procedure is accepted as a practicable, if not theoretically perfect solution of an admitted social difficulty.

But we may remark in passing that had the Licensing Benches acted up to their duty in past years in eliminating from the list of licensed houses such as had repeatedly been adversely reported on by the police, and had they exercised moderate judicial scrutiny over candidates for licenses, then the cry for local option would in all probability have never been raised. The people at large, after long and earnest discussion, agreed that there, were evils connected with the past system of licensing liquor bars which ought not to be endured and which the previous method of regulating these houses altogether failed to remove. We need not cite cases, or give statistics here. It is enough that there is an amount of ruin wrought in families and in personal character, which cries aloud for some redeeming agency, and it was at least not unreasonable that those who suffered misery through the weakness of those dear to them, believed, that the lessening or the number of open liquor bars would, in at least some degree, lessen the temptation to do wrong. And there is force also in the contention that in this particular matter it is better and safer to vest the controlling power in the hands of the ratepayers themselves than leave it to be exercised by the two or three practically irresponsible magistrates who from mistaken kindness, or pure carelessness may perchance, and unwittingly, do terrible wrong. We repeat that the abstract principle of local option is, to-day, not in question. The Legislature of the colony has decided that the ratepayers of a district may, if they will, regulate the number of licensed public houses down to a known and fixed number. In recording their votes to-day the electors of Ballarat are simply doing a duty which the State has, if indirectly, imposed upon them. But it may be pointed out that the law which confers this controlling power upon the electors or ratepayers, provides also that the exercise of that power shall not result in hardship to any who may be adversely affected by the result of the poll. Wherever a house is closed compensation will be given to both the landlord and the licensee. It is only necessary, to suggest that local option is not, in all countries, accompanied by such consideration to those whose business is affected by it. It is also to be assumed that the closing of the excess number of hotels in any district will result in improving the standard of those which are allowed to remain. There should be, with less competition, better liquor and general accommodation, better supervision, and better order, all of which would be welcome to the public at large. It is hard to understand that the vote to-day can or will be opposed by the better class of publicans, as its operation will tend directly to the advantage of their business and their vested rights, as well as to the general order and benefit of the community.[1]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1888 'Editorial', The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 - 1924), 23 March, p. 2. , viewed 30 Jan 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article209214869