Liquor Licensing System


The licensing of outlets to provide alcohol for on-site consumption and sale of take away alcohol has existed from the earliest times of the establishment of Western Australia (WA) as British colony in 1829. The basis for involvement of the State in regulation of the alcohol industry was historically to garner income from the taxation of alcohol and maintain public order.

Note: After Federation in 1901, WA lost the power to derive a major part of revenue it had previously obtained, as the Commonwealth government had exclusive power to raise excise duties on alcohol as well as tobacco. The State’s capacity to raise revenue was therefore limited to administrative fees related to issuing of licenses etc.

However, the scope of the State’s liquor licensing system’s role has evolved and expanded since the beginning of the period since 1900, such as, to regulate public health, safety and sanitation, prevention of adulteration of alcohol, the provision of publicly accessible accommodation, to support the operation of venues for entertainment and more recently, to support broader government policies for economic development and tourism.

1829 – 1911 (Licensing magistrates)

There was a proclamation on 1 January 1830 for the Swan River Colony when it had a population of about 2,000, which had been established only some six months earlier, that authorised issuing of licenses for inns and public houses (ie hotels) to sell alcohol. One of the conditions of the proclamation was that a licensee was to –

‘not permit drunkenness or get drunk himself … not to permit gambling … nor knowingly harbour men or women of notoriously bad fame’. (Ball et al (1997) Statewide survey of hotels 1829 – 1939, Southern region, Western Australia)

In the earliest period up to 1856, liquor licensing regulation was largely concerned with two goals, ‘the raising of public revenue from licence fees and liquor duties, and the prevention of drunkenness’. (Adams inquiry into operation of liquor laws, 1969)

In this era there were only two forms of licence –

  • public house licence which permitted the sale of alcohol that could be consumed on or off the premises of public houses
  • retail licence which entitled the holder to sell liquor for consumption off the premises in quantities of not less than one gallon. (A license was not required for sales of spirits in quantities of not less than 40 gallons or wine or beer in quantities of not less than 15 gallons.)

A public house was required to have at least one sitting room and one sleeping room for accommodation needs of travellers. Furthermore, underlining the importance of small rural communities, a keeper of a public house could be subject to a penalty if, without reasonable cause, they refused to furnish reasonable lodging and refreshment to any traveller and horses by night or day.

The public amenity objective of the provision of alcohol in conjunction with accommodation was a part of a reform in 1844, which extended availability of alcohol to boarding house keepers, to obtain a licence to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises to boarders and others taking a meal on the premises.

There were a series of amendments to the licensing laws from the mid 1850s to 1870s for a number of purposes, which expanded the public amenity obligation, by requiring a licensee to increase the minimum public accommodation to two sitting rooms and two sleeping rooms in public houses.

However, there was also a temperance-like reform at this time, which prohibited the sale of alcohol on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day, with the exception to ‘bona fide travellers’ and to expand types of licenses from two to ten.

A revised act, the Wines, Beer and Spirit Act 1880, consolidated and amended the previous provisions and for the first time regulated the trading hours of licensed premises over the week. The regulated hours were 4 am to 10 pm in the summer and 6 am to 10 pm in the winter. This Act also gave broad discretion for Licensing Magistrates to substantially vary these provisions according to local circumstances. One such example was how in the late 1890s, extended opening hours were introduced in the Goldfields District, on the grounds that gold miners after completion of night shifts should be able to drink alcohol at hotels.

1911 – 1923 (District licensing courts)

The liquor licensing laws were consolidated by the Licensing Act 1911, which came into effect in February 1911 and established licensing districts, licensing courts and the constitution of their membership. Licensing districts conformed with existing electoral districts, with the provision they could amalgamate or divide electoral districts into one or more licensing districts as required.

  • Perth Licensing Court (which amalgamated the Perth, East Perth, West Perth and North Perth electoral districts into one licensing district)
  • Fremantle Licensing Court
  • Subiaco Licensing Court
  • Guildford Licensing Court
  • Claremont Licensing Court
  • Canning Licensing Court
  • York Licensing Court
  • Yalgoo Licensing Court
  • Albany Licensing Court
  • Cue Licensing Court
  • Laverton Licensing Court

A licensing court was established in every licensing district and consisted of three persons appointed by the Governor. All were ex-officio Justices of the Peace and the Chairman had to be a Police or Resident Magistrate and were appointed for a three year term. 

All classes of liquor licences were granted for the duration of one calendar year and licence fees were based on the annual rental value of the property in the case of a publicans’ general licence, while fixed fees were levied for all other classes. The Licensing Act 1911 established a system of 15 licences –

  • Publican’s general
  • Hotel
  • Wayside-house
  • Australian wine and beer 
  • Australian wine
  • Australian wine bottle
  • Packet
  • Railway refreshment room
  • Spirit merchants
  • Gallon
  • Brewers
  • Eating-house, Boarding-house or Lodging-house
  • Billiard table 
  • Temporary
  • Occasional license

1923 – 1970 (State Licensing Court)

The Liquor Act Amendment Act 1922 abolished all existing Licensing Courts and established two administrative bodies, a single State Licensing Court (SLC) and the Licences Reduction Board, which came into operation in August 1923. 

The SLC had exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine all applications regarding licensing and to set the conditions for the granting of licences and permits on a State-wide basis.

The SLC operated as a branch of the Chief Secretary’s Department until 1970 when, under reforms of the Liquor Act of 1970, to become a statutory authority empowered to grant licences on a state wide basis with exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine all applications regarding licensing and to set the conditions for the granting of licences and permits. 

The Court was abolished in 1970 and replaced by the Licensing Court of Western Australia in July 1970.

1970 – 1987 (Licensing Court of WA)

The Liquor Act 1970 repealed the Licensing Act 1911 and established the Licensing Court of WA (LCWA), which came into operation in January 1987. The LCWA had exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine all applications regarding licensing and to set the conditions for the granting of licences and permits on a state wide basis.

The LCWA comprised a Judge who is required under the Act to hear and determine contested applications for the grant or removal of Category A licenses (i.e. hotels, taverns, cabarets and liquor stores). All other applications were heard by the Director of Liquor Licensing (Office of Racing Gaming and Liquor).  

The Court’s determinations had the same weight as those handed down by the District Court. The court and its functions were determined by the Liquor Amendment Act (No 2), 1986 and Liquor Licensing Act 1988.

1987 – 2007 (Liquor Licensing Court)

The LCWA was renamed the Liquor Licensing Court (LLC), which came into operation in February 1987.

This resulted in a two tier system of where the licensing function rested with the LLC, which had judicial oversight of major liquor licensing matters, and the Director of Liquor Licensing, with the processing and assessment of applications in effect devolved as administrative functions to the ORGL. 

Licensing decisions were shaped by the objects in Section 5 of the Liquor Licensing Act 1988, being to –

  • regulate, and to contribute to the proper development of, the liquor, hospitality and related industries in the State; 
  • cater for the requirements of the tourism industry; 
  • facilitate the use and development of licensed facilities reflecting the diversity of consumer demand; 
  • provide adequate controls over, and over the persons directly or indirectly involved in, the sale, disposal and consumption of liquor; and 
  • provide a flexible system, with as little formality or technicality as may be practicable, for the administration of the Act. 

These functions were created by a number of legislative arrangements stemming from the Liquor Amendment Act (No 2) 1986, the Liquor Licensing Act 1988 and the Liquor Licensing Amendment Act 1998.

The 1998 amendment implemented a number of changes that had been identified in the June 1995 report of the Minister for Racing and Gaming on the review of the Liquor Licensing Act, as well as recommendations in the April 1994 report of the review of the Liquor Licensing Act 1988.

May 2007 – present (Liquor Commission)

The Liquor Commission (LC) was established under Section 8 of the Liquor Control Act 1988 and came into effect in May, 2007, replacing the LLC, which had been established in 1987. 

This reform, triggered by the appointment of an independent committee in September 2004 to review the State’s liquor licensing arrangements, was justified as being able to have a flexible system with as little formality and technicality as practicable.

In 2007 the Liquor and Gaming Legislation Amendment Act 2006 came into operation, based on adoption of a number of recommendations of the May 2005 report of the review of the Liquor Licensing Act 1988 chaired by Jim Freemantle.

This in effect involved some of the licensing functions previously been dealt with in a court context being regarded as administrative matters, dealt with by the DRGL. The role of the LC describes its role on its website to –

  • determine liquor licensing matters referred by the Director of Liquor Licensing 
  • conduct reviews of certain decisions made by the Director, or a single Member of the Commission
  • conduct reviews into decisions based on a question of law
  • determine complaints and disciplinary matters in accordance with section 95 of the Liquor Control Act 1988
  • make binding, high-level decisions in accordance with Liquor Control Act 1988
  • award costs associated with matters before the Commission
  • report annually to the Minister for Racing and Gaming on activities of the Commission.

As noted on the LC’s website, its decision-making, as formed by the Act, are to –

  • regulate the sale, supply and consumption of liquor
  • minimize harm or ill-health caused to people, or any group of people, due to the use of liquor
  • cater for the requirements of consumers for liquor and related services, with regard to the proper development of the liquor industry and other hospitality industries in the State
  • facilitate the use and development of licensed facilities, including their use and development for the performance of live original music, reflecting the diversity of the requirements of consumers in the State 
  • provide adequate controls over, and over the persons directly or indirectly involved in, the sale, disposal and consumption of liquor.

Official inquiries

Since the early 1920s there have been a number of official inquiries in WA which have examined the operation of the State’s liquor licensing laws –

Royal Commission on licensing (1922) [1.2MB]
Henry Mann MLA Chairman

Parliamentary Committee into the Licensing Act 1911-1956 (1958) [2.1MB]
Eric Heenan MLC Chairman

Inquiry into the Licensing Act 1911 (1969) [3.2Mb]
Phillip Adams QC Chairman

Royal Commission into Liquor Laws in Western Australia (1984) [2.6MB]
John Syme Chairman

Office of Racing and Gaming (1987) [6.7MB]
Review of Western Australian Liquor Act 1970

Office of Racing and Gaming (1990) [3.8MB]
Review of Liquor Licensing Act 1988

Independent review of liquor licensing in Western Australia (1994) [5.2MB]
KV Mattingley Chairman

Minister for Racing and Gaming (1995) [2.2MB]
Ministerial response to the review of the Liquor Licensing Act 1988

Office of Racing, Gaming and Liquor (2001) [881k]
National competition policy legislation review – Liquor Licensing Act 1988

Independent Review of Liquor Licensing Act 1988 (2005) [351k]
Jim Freemantle Chairman

Assessment of impacts of liquor licensing reforms: A review of Australian experience (2005) [498k]
Report by Allen Consulting to Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor

Hughes, V & Thompson B (2009) [653k]
Is your house in order? Re-visiting liquor licensing practices and the establishment of an entertainment precinct in Northbridge (Research report by Western Australia Police)

Western Australian Auditor General (2011) [489k]
Raising the bar: Implementing key provisions of the Liquor Control Act in licensed premises
Click here to go to departmental website to view or download a PDF version of the report.

Independent Review Committee (2013) [3.2MB]
Report of inquiry into the Liquor Control Act 1988
John Atkins Chairman
Click here to go to departmental website to view or download a PDF version of the report.

Sources of data

Official published statistical data and other information about licensing matters are located in a number of disparate departmental annual reports, which also identify developments in services and policies, utilisation of services and other key measures, over the period from 1900.

Limitations of the arrangement established by the Licensing Act 1911 means information of the operation of the District Licensing Courts is not readily available as data were not consolidated, but as separate district level reports. However, after the Liquor Act Amendment Act 1922 abolished District Licensing Courts and established a single State Licensing Court, annual reports are available from the 1924/1925 financial year.

These are also other annual reports, such as those of the Licenses Reduction Board and the State Hotels Department of the Chief Secretary’s Department, also sources of statistical information.

As well as statistical data appended to earlier annual reports of the bodies which administered liquor licensing (eg Office of Racing, Gaming and Liquor), information is contained in annual reports of the liquor licensing courts. This means that some reports may need to be consulted contemporaneously as sources of data.

Except for the publication of compilations of data by the ORGL for the years 1993/1994 and 1994/1995, detailed statistical data is not readily available in annual reports published since 1985/1986. Some annual reports have been lost or were not produced.

More recent annual reports may be viewed or downloaded from the Liquor Commission of WA and Office of Racing, Gaming and Liquor websites.

Annual reports: Chief Inspector of Liquors (1905 – 1921/1922)

  • 1905
  • 1908
  • 1909
  • 1916/1917
  • 1918/1919
  • 1920/1921
  • 1921/1922

Annual reports: State Hotels Department (1913/1914 – 1952/1953)

  • 1913/1914
  • 1916/1917
  • 1918/1919
  • 1920/1921
  • 1921/1922
  • 1922/1923
  • 1923/1924
  • 1924/1925
  • 1925/1926
  • 1926/1927
  • 1927/1928
  • 1928/1929
  • 1930/1931
  • 1931/1932
  • 1933/1934
  • 1934/1935
  • 1935/1936
  • 1936/1937
  • 1937/1938
  • 1944/1945
  • 1945/1946
  • 1946/1947
  • 1947/1948
  • 1948/1949
  • 1949/1950
  • 1951/1952
  • 1952/1953

Annual reports: Licensing Reduction Board (1924/1925 – 1928/1929)

  • 1924/1925
  • 1925/1926
  • 1926/1927
  • 1927/1928
  • 1928/1929

Annual reports: State Licensing Court (1928/1929 – 1968/1969)

  • 1928/1929
  • 1929/1930
  • 1934/1935
  • 1935/1936
  • 1936/1937
  • 1937/1938
  • 1938/1939
  • 1939/1940
  • 1940/1941
  • 1941/1942
  • 1942/1943
  • 1943/1944
  • 1944/1945
  • 1945/1946
  • 1946/1947
  • 1949/1950
  • 1950/1951
  • 1951/1952
  • 1952/1953
  • 1953/1954
  • 1954/1955
  • 1955/1956
  • 1956/1957
  • 1957/1958
  • 1958/1959
  • 1959/1960
  • 1960/1961
  • 1961/1962
  • 1962/1963
  • 1963/1964
  • 1964/1965
  • 1965/1966
  • 1966/1967
  • 1967/1968
  • 1968/1969

Annual reports: Office of Racing, Gaming and Liquor (1985/1986 – 2000/2001)

  • 1985/1986
  • 1986/1987
  • 1987/1988
  • 1988/1989
  • 1989/1990
  • 1990/1991
  • 1991/1992
  • 1992/1993
  • 1993/1994 – Statistical supplement
  • 1994/1995 – Statistical supplement
  • 1995/1996
  • 1996/1997
  • 1997/1998
  • 1998/1999
  • 1999/2000
  • 2000/2001

Annual reports: Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor (2001/2002 – present)

  • 2001/2002
  • 2002/2003
  • 2003/2004
  • 2004/2005
  • 2005/2006
  • 2006/2007
  • 2007/2008
  • 2008/2009
  • 2009/2010
  • 2010/2011
  • 2011/2012
  • 2012/2013
  • 2013/2014
  • 2015/2016

Annual reports: Liquor Commission (2006/2007 – present)

  • 2006/2007
  • 2007/2008
  • 2008/2009
  • 2009/2010
  • 2010/2011
  • 2011/2012
  • 2012/2013
  • 2013/2014
  • 2014/2015
  • 2015/2016