Amid reports of rising incidences of alcohol-related violence, the WA police is calling for blanket liquor restrictions across a large portion of regional Western Australia, to the outcry of industry stakeholders.

In a letter sent to ABC media in error, Deputy Commissioner Allan Adams identified 25 towns in WA that he said had elevated rates of alcohol-related violence, and advised Liquor Licensing Director Lanie Chopping to implement harsher liquor restrictions in these areas.

Deputy Commissioner Adams’ recommendations are based on liquor restrictions in Carnarvon, which were introduced in May this year. Liquor Stores Association of WA CEO Peter Peck explained the government’s justification for these restrictions.

“The Carnarvon restrictions were put in place when the previous Premier Mark McGowan said, when Alice Springs was the centre of attention in regards to alcohol-fuelled violence, that Carnarvon was worse than Alice Springs,” Peck said.

The current liquor restrictions include a purchase limit of either one carton of mid-strength beer, cider, or pre-mix spirits; 3.75L of beer, cider or pre-mix spirits over six per cent ABV; 1.5L of wine; 1L of fortified wine; or 1L of spirits, per person per day. In addition, liquor sales are only permitted between the hours of 12pm and 7pm, with no trading allowed on Sunday or Monday.

According to Peck, these blanket restrictions have had a negative impact on the town’s economy.

“Tourism numbers, which will be coming out next week, will show that the town in some places is down up to 40 per cent on tourism,” he said.

Despite the recommendation from the Deputy Commissioner, Carnarvon-style liquor restrictions may not be extended to the towns listed in the letter.

“The Director of Liquor Licensing then came out and said this was an unsolicited letter, and that I’m not going to be acting on it at all. She batted it away,” Peck said.

Effectiveness of restrictions

Even if the Deputy Commissioner’s recommendations are not acted on, Peck sees the letter as an indication of the problems with blanket liquor restrictions.

“There were three towns that I found really interesting. One is Halls Creek, one is Fitzroy Crossing, and another one is Wiluna. In Halls Creek, you can get 2.7 per cent alcohol. Nothing stronger than that in Halls Creek, and Halls Creek had five times level of offending than Carnarvon.

“In Fitzroy Crossing you can get 2.6 per cent alcohol and that has 11 times the level of offending. Then there was Wiluna, a town that has no liquor license, so there’s no liquor outlet in Wiluna. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and the offending is 16 times higher than Carnarvon. So, we’ve got a town where you can’t even buy liquor, even low liquor, which is 16 times higher alcohol-fuelled violence, then Carnarvon that was painted to be Alice Springs on steroids,” he said.

Instead, Peck sees the real issue as the illegal sale of alcohol.

“If you have a town without any liquor licensing, and you’re saying the Carnarvon restrictions are going to fix the problem, how are you going to apply restrictions to a town that doesn’t have alcohol? The alcohol issue in Wiluna, in Halls Creek and in Fitzroy Crossing, is all sly grog.

“Nothing is going to change except people will go out of business while we purely focus on the legitimate licensed venues and we ignore where the problem lies, which is the illicit trade of illegal alcohol,” he said.

In addition, Peck calls for increased social services in towns with high rates of alcohol-related violence. Peck recalled that when residents in Fitzroy Crossing were prevented from purchasing alcohol with an ABV over 2.7 per cent, much of the drinking population moved to Derby, which did not have the necessary services to help problem drinkers.

“There were no state government services like child protection in Derby. Although the population grew and the government was aware of the growth of the population, they did not put any government services in there to deal with it.

“We’ve called for the Child Protection Minister to put boots on the ground and leave them there. Don’t just fly them in for 10 minutes while the media are there. At the end of the day, this state has got a $4bn surplus which other states dream of, but the $4bn does not seem to be translating into services for people who are in crisis,” he said.

Changes to the Banned Drinkers Register

The WA Government will implement changes to the Banned Drinkers Register (BDR) on 14 December, which will require mandatory participation by all liquor outlets, make it an offence to buy alcohol for someone on the register, and give police officers, health practitioners and social workers the power to put people on the register. This will apply to the Pilbara, Kimberly, Goldfields, and Carnarvon and Gascoyne Junction regions.

With the upcoming changes to the BDR, Liquor Licensing Director Chopping is considering increased restrictions in Broome and Derby, which are already under Section 64 liquor restrictions. For Broome, this prohibits the consumption of alcohol in a private vehicle or in public locations. In Derby, as well as the restrictions around consumption of alcohol in a private vehicle or in public locations, takeaway alcohol can only be purchased from 12pm to 8pm, Monday to Sunday. Additionally, beer cannot be purchased in bottles 750mL or over, and wine cask sales are limited to one cask per person per day.

Both towns are also subject to Kimberley-wide restrictions, which prohibit the sale of glass beer bottles over 400mL, and individual containers of more than 1L of liquor with an alcohol content of six per cent or more.

“Broome’s Section 64 was placed five years ago. It has sat there for five years, without anybody doing anything. Now for some strange reason, because we’ve got the BDR coming in, it seems to be urgent that we actually finish that section 64 for Broome. That could be because they want more restrictions before the BDR comes in,” Peck said.

While he supports the Banned Drinkers Register, the most important thing for Peck is action from the government in assisting communities affected by alcohol-related violence and the problem drinkers themselves.

“If there are restrictions, it’s got to be attached to a financial commitment by the state government and the Premier that they will be placing X number of dollars in these communities to start to fix the problem. There’s no point in turning off the tap if you’re not going to fix the problem,” he said.

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