The Western Australian Government has announced changes to its Banned Drinkers Register (BDR) regulation, with the initiative set to strengthen and expand into a new area.
The BDR first began in WA in 2020, and aims to reduce alcohol-related harm by restricting problem drinkers from accessing takeaway alcohol. Under the scheme, anyone buying takeaway alcohol must have their ID scanned against the BDR at the point of sale, with the scanner notifying staff if the customer is on the register.
Proposals about changes to the BDR were released for consultation in September last year, with new legislation now being drafted off the back of this to improve the effectiveness of the current BDR trials in the Pilbara, Kimberley and Goldfields region. The Government has confirmed the trial is also set to expand to the Carnarvon region.
Included in the strengthening of the program will be greater processes for individuals to be added to their local BDR, with police and courts able to register people for alcohol-related offences such as alcohol-related violence and drink driving (not just those offences that happen in or near licensed premises). Health professionals and other specialist frontline staff would also be able to refer people to the BDR process.
In addition, online liquor shoppers would also need to be checked against the BDR, while police will have the power to seize or dispose of liquor possessed by a banned drinker.
Racing and Gaming Minister, Reece Whitby, said such reform will improve the effectiveness of the BDR.
“Alcohol-related harm is a long-standing, complex issue. There is no easy fix. The trial is one of several measures to tackle alcohol abuse and protect Western Australians,” he said.
An expansion of the BDR to the Carnarvon region follows recent visits to the area by Whitby, as well as Premier Mark McGowan, who met with police, local government, service providers, and the area’s liquor accord.
“While an enhanced Banned Drinkers Register will not be a cure all, we’re taking immediate steps to roll it out in Carnarvon and I’m confident it will help address alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour,” said Whitby.
Updated BDR legislation is said to be introduced to Parliament as soon as possible.
Industry welcomes BDR changes
In recent weeks, community issues surrounding alcohol-related harm have been in the spotlight in WA. Peter Peck, CEO of the Liquor Stores Association of WA, said it was good to see positive action to help address such issues.
“It’s a great outcome for the industry and the community at large. Our members and other industry partners want to work together to get the results needed to bring calm back to the community,” he said.
“This is a common sense approach, to combat problem drinkers and ensure licensees are fulfilling their community obligations while at the same time, they are ensuring they have a sustainable industry to operate in.”
Michael Waters, CEO of Retail Drinks Australia, also commended the changes, continuing the organisation’s long-term support of the BDR’s rollout in WA.
“Retail Drinks supports targeted, localised policy intervention such as the BDR which is designed to address harmful drinking by individuals, rather than whole-of-population measures,” Waters said.
“In November 2022, Retail Drinks made a submission to the WA Government’s review of the BDR, recommending that the BDR be extended to all take-away sales of alcohol in BDR regions. Other supported proposals to strengthen the BDR include increasing pathways to being placed on the BDR, and improved access to treatment and other support services for individuals on the BDR.”
Bradley Woods, CEO of the Australian Hotels Association in WA (AHA WA), added further support for the changes.
“The proposed enhancements announced today will make a significant difference in helping ensure this policy is effective in addressing alcohol-related harm in areas of the state where it is more pronounced,” Woods said.
“The register should be populated with those who have repeatedly demonstrated an inability to responsibly consume alcohol and who go on to break the law, harm others or endanger the community. Today’s changes will help ensure such people are prevented from buying alcohol, which will help keep themselves, their families and the community safer.”
Is further action needed?
As Minister Whitby said, issues surrounding alcohol-related harm can be quite complex. The BDR is often labelled as a key component of a wider toolkit to address the issue.
Peck told National Liquor News that one important benefit of the BDR is how it helps point to where issues could be coming from, outside of the liquor retail industry. By limiting supply to banned drinkers, it allows for other measures to be put in place across communities to create long term positive change, while not impacting the majority of the population who drink responsibly.
It’s for this reason that, prior to the WA government’s announcement today, LSA WA earlier this week called for the expansion of the BDR into certain areas of Perth.
“I’m not talking about the whole of Perth – we were discussing a specific area where there’s been a lot of trouble at the moment. The police say this is directly connected to alcohol. So if we can isolate those areas with BDRs, and the police can place those people who are causing trouble in those areas on the BDRs, we can start to refuse service to them and go through that process from there,” Peck explained.
“I don’t think it needs to be a whole of Perth approach, I don’t think we’re at that point. But it’s not a bad idea to bring forward this discussion about specific areas where there are problems, where [a BDR] may be the circuit breaker that is needed.
“I don’t want to fix problems that don’t exist – that costs resources and taxpayer’s money. It’s about just using a targeted weapon where it’s required.”
While no official plans have been laid out for further expansion of the BDR beyond the latest announcement, the industry sees the WA Government’s process of consultation as important to ensure that future developments of the scheme are targeted and effective.
Speaking about possible future expansions, Waters told National Liquor News: “If a legislative Head of Power to enable establishment of regulations to prescribe new BDR regions is created, as proposed in the WA Government’s 2022 discussion paper, it should be accompanied with a requirement for industry and community stakeholder consultation well before a new BDR region is introduced. Doing so will help determine if the BDR is a suitable mechanism for the local community in focus and ensure that implementation of the BDR can be managed efficiently and effectively, particularly when considering the essential role of liquor retailers in a functioning BDR.”