Fears as Crackdown on Regional Alcohol Sales Rejected

A plea for severe alcohol restrictions across Australia’s northwest has been rejected by the West Australian liquor umpire.  Former WA police commissioner Chris Dawson, who is now the state’s Governor, began pushing for an unprecedented crackdown on alcohol sales in the north in 2019. To support his case, he supplied evidence about alcohol-fuelled violence and testimonials from frontline workers and an opinion from the state’s chief medical officer, Andy Robertson, who recommended the government consider either barring or restricting the sale of mid- and full-strength alcohol across the state’s north. The decision by the new WA ­director of liquor licensing, Lanie Chopping, to allow bottle shops to continue to sell full-strength takeaway alcohol in far north Kimberley and Pilbara towns follows an almost four-year dispute over the best response to alarming rates of alcohol-related violence and dysfunction in those regions.

WA Liquor Minister Reece Whitby said Ms Chopping was independent and made her decision after “a very thorough process and consultation”. “This is a longstanding, complex issue and the banned drinkers register trial is one of a number of initiatives the McGowan government is using to address alcohol abuse,” Mr Whitby said. “We’ve listened to the feedback from all stakeholders – including licensees, police and community services – to help strike the right balance that will be accepted by the broader ­community.” The McGowan government is now attempting to fix the banned drinkers register which it began trialling in 2020, by making it more closely resemble the one in place in the Northern Territory. In the NT, there is also a floor price on alcohol. According to an interim assessment of the banned drinkers register by the University of WA published in last year, there had been no discernible reduction in crime almost two years after the rollout began in the Pilbara.

The report found there were too few people on the register. By last week, there were still just 90 people banned in the Kimberley, which has a population of 38,000, and just 92 people banned in the Pilbara, which has a population of 63,000. The report found those who were banned could easily get friends to buy for them or go to a bottle shop that did not participate in the trial. Another problem was that bottle shops could decide if they wished to even check whether a customer was banned before serving them. Kalgoorlie-Boulder Mayor John Bowler backed the banned drinkers register when the McGowan government began trialling it in the WA goldfields in March last year, but he has been disappointed with the outcome. “In its current form, it is totally ineffective,” he said.. “The one thing that was working – the cashless debit card – they took away.” In the Kimberley, Ms ­Cho­pping has endorsed pandemic-era purchase limits for all towns.

For example, a person can buy a maximum of three bottles of wine, one carton of full-strength beer or a bottle of spirits per day, or a combination such as a bottle of wine and half a carton of beer. Police can still impose temporary bottle shop bans in response to a particular event or crisis, as they have done in the Kimberley. Aboriginal elder Ian Trust, who runs the Wunan Foundation in Kununurra, said he initially backed blanket bottle shop bans in the Kimberley. “The biggest losers in towns and communities where alcohol is a problem are children and old people who come from families who are caught up in a cycle which they cannot get out of,” Mr Trust said. “If blanket alcohol bans are not imposed, it makes sense to make sure the banned drinkers register does work – especially in cases where the safety of children is involved, or the individual has been found guilty of multiple cases of domestic violence.

“If we want to get serious about addressing the social issues, alcohol management will need to be front and centre of our strategies along with housing and employment opportunities.” Broome shire president Harold Tracey said a broader banned drinkers register and scanning to stop individuals from purchasing their daily limit at multiple bottle shops would help address the region’s alcohol issues. “The next thing is about getting funding into rehabilitation centres and sober-up centres,” he said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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