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Top 7 legal issues for liquor stores

June 17, 2021   Mollie PlenzichPhilip Evangelou

There are a number of legal issues that need to be considered when managing, operating, or purchasing a liquor store. It is legal to drink and sell alcohol in Australia, as long as certain conditions are met. So what should you look out for as the owner, manager, or employee of a liquor store?

1. Leasing agreements

It is likely that, as an owner of a liquor store, you will enter or have entered into a leasing agreement with the landlord. Liquor stores are covered under the Retail Leases Act 1994 in NSW, and there are appropriate statutes for each state. Other legislation, depending on your jurisdiction and location, may also affect your leasing agreement.

OpenLegal recommends that you seek legal advice and carefully review the leasing agreement before signing it. You should also consider whether clauses specific to your circumstances are included in the document as leasing agreements tend to operate as generic contracts.

2. Licences and permits

Legal trade of alcohol requires obtaining a licence or permit to sell alcohol. The type of permit required will vary depending on the state you are in. Generally, liquor licences enable you to sell alcohol to people between certain hours, as long as they consume the alcohol away from your premises. In NSW, the relevant licence is called a “packaged liquor licence”, and it generally permits the sale of alcohol from 5am to midnight Monday through Saturday, and 10am to 11pm on Sunday. You can apply for an extended trading authorisation if you wish to trade outside of these hours.

Most importantly, however, is that you refer to the conditions imposed on your specific liquor licence; you must adhere to the most restrictive requirements imposed on your liquor store.

3. Legal drinking age

Across Australia, consumers must be at least 18 years old to legally purchase alcohol. Maintaining this standard requires validating the customer’s age with photo ID (or “proof of age” documents), an issue which frequently presents itself at all venues which sell alcohol. 

According to Liquor & Gaming NSW, most liquor stores in Australia should accept as valid identification: 

  • Australian or other passports;
  • A driver or rider licence (Australian or foreign);
  • Proof of age cards; or
  • Keypass (over-18) identity card issued by Australia Post.

When buying alcohol from a liquor store, anyone who looks under the age of 25 should be prepared to present a valid ID. If they do not have an ID or refuse to present it, they will not be allowed to purchase alcohol. It is also important that all staff in liquor stores are over the age of 18 and have a current responsible service of alcohol (RSA) certificate.

4. Intoxication

As well as selling alcohol to people under the age of 18, it is illegal to sell alcohol to someone who is already drunk. It is up to you to decide whether to refuse to sell alcohol to a patron. Licensees may have a written policy that deals with ‘refusal of service’ as part of their risk-assessed management plan. This is encouraged as it promotes delivery of a clear and consistent message that all patrons can understand.

It is important to speak to the person you suspect of being unduly intoxicated and watch out for visible signs of noticeable intoxication, such as speech (e.g. slurring words), balance and coordination (e.g. unsteady on feet, fumbling change), or behaviour. (e.g. acting rude, argumentative or offensive).

This list is not exhaustive, but keep in mind that some medical conditions or disabilities may cause similar behaviours without the person being intoxicated. A person can lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission if they feel they have been subjected to discrimination or through the appropriate state-level measures. Be mindful of others’ privacy.

5. Labelling

This issue is simple but absolutely compulsory across the whole of Australia. It requires all packaged alcohol to show or display how many standard drinks it contains in accordance with the Food Standards Code. So, it may be useful to get into the habit of checking your stock to see whether it complies with the relevant labelling requirement.

6. Impact of COVID-19 on alcohol sales

COVID-19 is continuing to have an unexpected effect on the way alcohol retailers are trading. To increase the availability and efficiency of “contactless delivery” solutions, the alcohol market has been shifting online. This has decreased the ability of liquor stores and other alcohol retailers to accurately verify age or consider whether the customer is intoxicated.  The alcohol policy changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic were predominantly temporary, and varied considerably across the different states and territories. 

If your store is participating in regulations which ease access to purchase alcohol, such as contactless delivery, be mindful of the possibility that you could be breaking the law by doing so (e.g. by ‘trading outside of your licensing conditions’). As always, pay attention to the specific conditions of your liquor licence.

7. Observing specific laws that differ by jurisdiction

Perhaps the most difficult issue for liquor stores is abiding by alcohol laws which differ by jurisdiction. Examples of these include trading restrictions, secondary supply rules, alcohol-free zones, takeaway liquor trading, and “dry areas”.

Alcohol-free zones or dry areas tend to apply to public spaces where outdoor alcohol restrictions are implemented in response to police and community requests that reduce alcohol-related anti-social behaviour and crime in such places. They can be established on a timed or temporary basis; specific alcohol-free zones will be determined by your state or territory government. Cities like Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney also have alcohol-free and alcohol-prohibited zones that are determined and regulated by the local council.

Trading restrictions are also important to keep track of. For example, in NSW, liquor stores cannot trade on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and before 1pm on ANZAC Day. However, if your liquor store is in a nominated tourist zone, or has less than four regular employees and less than two owners, you may be able to trade on restricted trading days (except for Good Friday and Christmas Day). You may also apply for an exemption if you feel that it is in the public’s best interest to trade on that day.


The two most important points to take away from this article are:

  1. Pay attention to the restrictions and requirements imposed on your specific liquor licence; and
  2. Adhere to the relevant legislation and regulation(s) for your state or territory.

Alcohol laws exist to promote healthy communities free from alcohol-related behaviour and crimes. If you are considering opening a liquor store or wondering how COVID-19 will change the way you trade for the foreseeable future, save this article for reference.

If you need legal assistance with an alcohol related business, get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to assist.

About Mollie Plenzich

Mollie PlenzichMollie is an OpenLegal paralegal while she completes her Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts in International Studies at UTS. She is also taking part in the Brennan Justice and Leadership Program.

About Philip Evangelou

phillipPhil is a director at OpenLegal. He has over 16 years experience working in private practice and in-house counsel in Sydney and London, giving him expertise in employment law, IP, finance, leases, dispute resolution, insurance and contracts.