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There seems to be a lot of noise about noise

As seen in the March Edition of QHA Review. 

I know that managing appropriate noise levels is a constant battle for many hoteliers. OLGR reports that one in every three complaints they receive about licensed venues relates to excessive noise, and just last June OLGR also released a new guideline on the preparation of acoustic reports. The issue of noise management is therefore as topical as ever – which leads me to issue this reminder about licensees’ responsibilities around noise levels.

Unreasonable Noise

Licensees are responsible not only for ensuring that entertainment noise does not exceed prescribed noise limits, but also for monitoring and managing other noise originating from the premises such as noise from air conditioning units, generators, and patrons (including those entering and leaving the premises). Specifically, the Liquor Act requires licensees to prevent “unreasonable noise”, which includes noise that:

  1. exceeds background noise levels by more than 10 decibels, as measured at affected residences or businesses, between the hours of 6.00am to 10.00pm;
  2. exceeds background noise levels by more than eight decibels, measured at affected residences or businesses, between the hours of 10.00pm to 6.00am;
  3. contravenes a compliance order that applies to the premises; or
  4. contravenes a condition that applies to the premises.

Given the above stipulations, licensees may still be in breach of their obligations even if noise at the premises falls below those levels specified in a condition of their liquor licence, or below the levels approved by the local council.

Licensees must ensure that they do not create a Nuisance to those living or working around them. Whether or not there is a Nuisance depends upon the demographics of the population in the Local Catchment Area (LCA), along with the density of the population.

In addition, the acoustic design of the premises – including any sound buffers – can be subjectively created to avoid complaints about “noise nuisance”.

Apart from the noise levels permitted by the Licence, licensees must ensure that the noise emanating from their venue is not greater than the levels allowed by the Development Application (DA) for the particular premises, or other relevant town planning requirements for the location. 

Licensees who fail to prevent unreasonable noise risk being issued with an abatement notice by OLGR. Breach of an abatement notice can in turn lead to penalties such as:

  • on-the-spot fines of up to $2,669;
  • prosecution (with maximum fines of $13,345);
  • compliance orders requiring the licensee to obtain a new acoustic report and/ or improve the acoustics at the venue;
  • variation of licence conditions; or
  • other disciplinary action ranging from fines to cancellation of the licence.

Licence Conditions

OLGR may impose noise conditions when licensees apply for the grant or variation of a licence. For licensees who will not conduct amplified entertainment and who do not submit an acoustic report, OLGR will impose conditions that:

  1. noise must be limited to 75 decibels measured three metres from the source (around the same volume as a typical vacuum cleaner); and
  2. entertainers and speaker systems must not be positioned in outdoor areas such as verandahs or beer gardens.

Alternatively, licensees may apply to vary these usual conditions by submitting an acoustic report in line with OLGR’s requirements. These include that the report must be prepared by a suitably qualified person, using approved assessment instrumentation, according to a strict methodology designed to factor in variables such as prevailing weather conditions and the topography of the land where the premises is located.

Once again, the levels of noise that may be applied for to OLGR cannot exceed those allowable under the town planning requirements.

OLGR may amend the usual licence conditions to allow outdoor entertainment or increased noise levels, should the acoustic report support this. OLGR may also impose additional conditions, such as a requirement that doors or windows must be shut while music is being played, based on the report.

The Mullins Hospitality team is experienced in working with licensees to help you understand your obligations when it comes to managing noise. We can also work with you and your sound engineers to obtain an acoustic report and apply for amendments to the noise conditions on your liquor licence. Please give me a call on 07 3224 0230 for an obligation-free discussion.

Article written by Curt Schatz (Managing Partner) and Glen Rolley (Associate). 

"The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication."