By James Atkinson
An unusual split decision handed down by liquor regulators has consigned to failure a recent bid by Coles to expand its 1st Choice Liquor chain.
In the decision by the Liquor Commission of Western Australia, deputy chairperson Seamus Rafferty ruled in favour of Coles' application to open the new 1st Choice store in the Perth suburb of Maylands.
But he was overruled by a majority decision, with fellow panel members – Commission chairperson Jim Freemantle and member Helen Cogan – ruling that any benefits of the new store were outweighed by the potential harm it posed to the community.
The Commission heard that there were four outreach and social services organisations in the immediate vicinity of the proposed store that deal with "at risk" groups including mentally ill, homeless and indigenous persons.
Freemantle and Cogan said Coles had not adequately dealt with concerns raised by these organisations in relation to the harm and ill health that may be caused by the granting of the application.
But Rafferty said each of the service providers already had licensed premises in closer proximity than the proposed 1st Choice outlet, and there was no evidence that these existing premises were having a negative impact on the "at risk" persons.
"Simply because an area has people within it that are considered at risk is not a sufficient basis to determine that the granting of a licence is not in the public interest," he said.
"There must be something tangible… that gives rise to a conclusion that it is not in the public interest to grant the licence due to the harm or ill health that might be caused to people, or any group of people, due to the use of liquor," Rafferty said.
"I would grant the application."
Coles, which has open to it the option to appeal the decision to WA's Supreme Court, did not respond to a request for comment.
The split decision to reject the retailer's Maylands store application is the only non-unanimous ruling by the Commission out of 21 licensing applications referred to it since 2010.