Broome and Derby are set to receive blanket liquor purchase limits, shortly after legislation expanding the Banned Drinkers Register (BDR) was passed by the Western Australian government.

Following an inquiry by the Director of Liquor Licensing into the impacts of alcohol abuse in the northern WA towns of Derby and Broome, WA Liquor Licensing Director Lanie Chopping has proposed further liquor restrictions for the two towns.

These limits would institute a daily purchase limit of either:

  • 11.25L (one carton) of beer, cider, or premix spirits under six per cent ABV
  • 3.75L of beer, cider, or premix spirits over six per cent ABV
  • 1.5L of wine
  • 1L of fortified wine
  • 1L of spirits
  • a combination of 1.5L of wine with 5.6L of beer, cider, or premix spirits under six per cent ABV, or 1.87L of beer, cider or premix over six per cent ABV

Additionally, under the proposed restrictions, if a product is available in both a glass and non-glass container, only the non-glass container may be sold.

Furthermore, the sale of liquor in Broome would be restricted to the hours between 12pm and 7pm, and the sale of liquor in Derby would be prohibited on Sundays and Mondays.

These proposed restrictions are similar to those suggested by Deputy Commissioner Allan Adams in a letter to Director Chopping, which ABC media received in error in December 2023. In the letter, Adams compiled a list of 25 towns, including Broome and Derby, in which he wanted to see harsher blanket liquor restrictions. At the time, Chopping said this letter was unsolicited and she would not be acting on Adams’ recommendations.

Retailer associations have expressed their support for the targeted BDR, as opposed to blanket liquor restrictions affecting whole communities.

Michael Waters, CEO of Retail Drinks Australia, is concerned that the proposed liquor restrictions punish responsible drinkers, instead of those who commit alcohol-related offences.

“Retail Drinks supports the WA Government in pursuing targeted policy measures designed to address alcohol-related harm in the Broome and Derby regions of WA such as the BDR. We believe that taking a targeted approach towards problematic alcohol consumption and practices such as sly grogging are more effective than blanket measures such as restrictions in store trading hours, which punish the majority of residents who drink responsibly,” he said.

Peter Peck, CEO of Liquor Stores Association of WA (LSA WA), sees the proposed restrictions as a regressive approach to alcohol-related issues.

“We’re puzzled because the government has changed the liquor licensing laws to enable police to put people on the BDR. That came into effect on 14 December, so it has barely been a month. The police have added somewhere around 400 to 500 people to the register already, so the legislation is working. Why the Director of Liquor Licensing has opted to go down the old, unsuccessful approach of blanket restrictions and not give the BDR the chance to show results is beyond us,” he said.

Sly grogging is also a concern for Peck, although he does not believe that current legislation will affect those selling alcohol illegally.

“We know that there is a considerable level of sly grogging going on and the BDR is going to have absolutely no effect on that. The only thing that will affect sly grogging is prosecutions of people that are selling illicit alcohol,” he said.

According to Peck, the proposed purchase limits will not affect sly groggers, as they generally purchase alcohol in areas without liquor restrictions and bring them into other towns.

“If anything, the proposed restrictions will have a positive impact on the sly grogger. For instance, with the liquor stores in Broome and Derby closing at 7pm instead of 10pm, that opens up a larger market from 7pm through to midday the following day, where the only alcohol available for purchase is illicit,” he said.

Additionally, Peck is wary of the unintended effects of introducing five-day trading in Derby while still maintaining seven-day trading 200km away in Broome.

“What will happen on the Sunday is that the people in Derby who want to drink will drive 200km down the road to Broome. They will sleep rough on the town oval. They will consume alcohol while they’re there. Come Tuesday, when their stores are open in Derby, the people driving home will probably still be over the legal alcohol limit. The potential for people who are intoxicated to be driving north back to Derby on the Great Northern Highway is something that I just don’t want to think about. The unintended consequences of this could be an increase in road trauma,” he said.

Waters is hopeful that more effective policies can be developed through collaboration with the WA government.

“We have been pleased to work collaboratively with the WA Government on alcohol policy measures in regional areas of the state and look forward to continuing to do so in future,” he said.

Liquor theft a continuing concern

Liquor theft has been a hot topic in WA in recent weeks, following a case of two individuals who committed several liquor thefts over a three-day period, with some thefts committed just hours after they had appeared in Perth Magistrates Court for stealing offences.

“Retail crime is on the rise across Australian jurisdictions, including WA, with liquor being reported as one of the most commonly stolen items. In response to this issue, Retail Drinks last month launched the Safe to Serve initiative designed to equip retail liquor stores with resources such as a self-assessment tool, crime statistics, best practice guidelines, training, and more to promote the safety of store staff and customers,” Waters said.

The WA Police Force has stated that it regularly conducts operations to curb retail theft, including theft occurring in liquor stores. Notably, the metro-wide Operation Condinup, conducted in August 2023, resulted in more than 900 offenders being processed for over 2,300 incidences of retail theft.

Additionally, the WA Police Force held a workshop with retailers, where attendees shared their insights into retail theft. According to Metropolitan Region Assistant Commissioner, Brad Royce, maintaining relationships between retailers and the WA Police Force is vital to efforts to minimise retail theft.

“Retail theft offending is an issue faced across the entire globe, and an issue that must involve all stakeholders working together. Our frontline officers are already doing great work, conducting operations, and targeting high harm offenders, who are most likely to commit retail theft offences. We hope, through continued workshops with retailers, we can work towards supporting our frontline with long term answers to this problem,” he said.

While he supports a change in legislation, Peck does not believe that harsher criminal sentencing is the only answer.

“Although they’re breaking the law, they’re breaking the law because they have a medical condition, an addiction. What we’ve been calling on the government to do is give these people an option of either six months in prison, or three months in involuntary rehab,” he said.

Ultimately, Peck wants to see the government tackle the issue of liquor theft at its root.

“We need to target this small number of offenders and find out why they’re doing it. If it’s not a mental health issue then they need to go inside, they need to learn that there are consequences and hopefully a deprivation of their liberty will wake them up to that. Otherwise, let’s get them some help and find out why they’re stealing,” he said.

Mingulltharndo goes dry

On 2 November 2023, the Pilbara community of Mingullatharndo (Five Mile) became the newest dry community in WA, bringing the number to 28 communities. A total alcohol ban has been introduced for an initial five-year period, and it is now an offence to possess, supply or sell liquor in Mingullatharndo.

Kalsyn Smith, a member and former chairperson of the Mingullatharndo Committee, said that the liquor ban is supported by the whole community.

“We are pleased the State Government has responded to our request with liquor restrictions now in place for our community. It has been a long process but definitely worth pursuing.

“Being an alcohol-free community helps us reduce the likelihood of violent behaviour caused by alcohol abuse entering our community and assists us maintain a safe place for our families,” he said.

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