Western Australia’s liquor retail environment is a complex landscape, challenged by several issues such as liquor restrictions, licensing and ongoing retail crime. But despite these challenges, support from state-based associations and local Government members is proving to be valuable, while positive spending habits have also sustained.

Chris O’Brien, General Manager of Liquor Barons, recently sat down with National Liquor News to discuss some of the challenges facing liquor retailers in Western Australia right now. At an industry level, he explained that the safety of owners and staff is a significant issue, and addressing retail crime and violence remains a key focus for Liquor Barons.

“There is work to be done in the community, and in terms of repeat offenders, in stopping robbery and stopping violence towards our retail staff, and I would rate that as a high priority.

“It’s our job as a cooperative to work with our association and ensure that it is well funded and well connected, and to work with decision makers and ensure that these very real issues faced by our store owners and managers at the moment are heard and addressed by those empowered to make the decisions,” he said.

Another issue impacting sections of the community in WA is the misuse of alcohol. In highlighting his concern about the problem, O’Brien outlined the importance of consulting store owners and operators on the resolution, and ensuring that the solution implemented by the WA Police is measured and practical.

“We don’t shy away from the misuse of alcohol issues that exist in the population, and we not only want to be, but have to be, part of the solution,” he said.

“Most small business owners are part of the community as well, and they’re seeing the issues firsthand. If we can be part of finding a solution, and a solution that works for everybody, that can only be a good thing.

“Our preferred solution is the continued rollout of the Banned Drinkers Register, and to make sure that it is used widely and appropriately.”

In tackling these challenges, O’Brien explains just how valuable it is to have a state-based association, such as the Liquor Stores Association of WA (LSA WA), representing businesses.

“We know that liquor licensing legislation is state-based and to be impactful we need to work with the state-based legislation, therefore, associations like the LSA WA in my view are the best way forward to achieve outcomes for our industry.”

In March this year, LSA WA hosted a members’ forum which connected members directly with Minister Paul Papalia and gave them the opportunity to raise any issues.

According to O’Brien, the members’ forum was successful in facilitating liquor retailers to voice their concerns, feel heard, and receive valuable feedback directly from the Minister.

“We’ve got to applaud the efforts of the LSA WA for being able to get the Minister in a room with liquor store owners and managers, and quite openly talk through issues that are affecting us today,” he said.

“We know that liquor licensing legislation is state-based, and therefore, to make changes we need to be able to influence our Parliament to make positive legislative decisions to better the community in regard to liquor. To be involved in that process is absolutely critical to get good commercial outcomes.”

While O’Brien praised LSA WA for their facilitation of such an event, he also spoke positively about the responses and commitments given by the Minister on the night.

He said: “I felt that the Minister spoke with genuine interest, authority and knowledge of the issues – even the local issues of various regional communities. I was even more impressed with his undertakings to take our thoughts, comments and potential alternative solutions to his colleagues, and to include us in the process of finding a solution.”

O’Brien also credited the members in the room, explaining that all participants upheld intelligent conversations that touched on emotional subjects and addressed issues in an appropriate manner, which reflected positively on the small business owners in the industry.

Although the WA liquor retail environment is currently facing some challenges, in a more positive sentiment, O’Brien has observed less of an impact from cost-of-living pressures on WA when compared with other states.  

Among other contributing factors such as low unemployment rates, the relative affordability of living in WA, where the median house price in Perth is currently the lowest of any capital city in Australia, has had a proportionate effect on reducing disposable income.

“We find ourselves in almost a counter cyclic position to the rest of the country, and while I’m not calling boom time just yet, I think WA, perhaps unlike the rest of Australia, is about to embark on a particularly prosperous period,” said O’Brien.

“For me, it’s important to make sure that Liquor Barons is well set and ready for that change. The fact that we’re based and make decisions in WA allows us to see this opportunity, and to react to it very quickly. I think that will set us up well for the coming period.”

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