Addressing alcohol-related concerns in WA

24 October, 2019 by Deborah Jackson

The Hon. Paul Papalia, Minister Small Business in Western Australia, has applauded the positive impact that independent liquor stores have on the economy and local communities in WA.

But he also highlights that there are very real problems of alcohol abuse in some regional communities and the only way for them to be properly addressed is through a collaborative approach between industry and government.

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Banned Drinkers Register – Pilbara

The Banned Drinkers Register (BDR) trial will be the first of its kind in WA and will apply to all licensed premises in the town of Pilbara that sell takeaway alcohol.

The proposed measures would see scanning technology installed in all takeaway licensed premises that would cross check customer photo identification with the banned drinkers register and if the machine turns red, the customer would be denied the purchase.

“We know that alcohol abuse is one of the key elements associated with child abuse in that particular area. And so, in consultation with the industry we proposed a trial of an entire region of a BDR. It hasn’t happened anywhere else, in Western Australia there has been a non-government supported trial in Kununurra and of course we all know in the Northern Territory they’ve had a trial, but they’ve had a whole range of other initiatives.

“I note that depending on who you are, you claim that your particular project is the initiative that works, so there are some people who say the BDR is working. There are others who say that community policing officers in liquor outlets is working. And there are others who say a floor price of alcohol is working. There are all of these different competing claims, but what we want to do is establish a trial across an entire region, in this case, the Pilbara that identifies whether or not a BDR is a positive initiative.

“We want to benchmark at the outset, we want to have an independent trial conducted or overseen by the University of WA. They will design and then oversee and measure the outcomes of the trial and we want it over in entire region, that’s a pretty big deal.

“Unfortunately, we do have a couple of different restrictions, because we had thought we might get one restriction across everywhere and that would be easy.

“It’s underway, though. We’re working very closely with the industry because this won’t work without the industry’s participation. They’re enthusiastic about it and hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to really build a robust trial that informs not just ourselves, but everybody, all jurisdictions about the potential for this type of initiative in WA. If it looks like it’s working, then we’d obviously move to try and roll it out further afield. Because now we’ve got a patchwork quilt of restrictions across the state that could be set to have questionable outcomes. And the industry wants to target people who are the problem drinkers. I think that’s a reasonable approach.”

Liquor barn ban

In 2018, Premier Mark McGowan announced amendments to the Liquor Control Act that would regulate the number of liquor outlets of a certain size from opening within a specified radius of each other. The proposed size and radius were 400sqm and 5km.

Papalia told National Liquor News: “That law has passed, and regulations have been developed, we’re doing that in consultation with the entire industry. The Liquor Stores Association has been very engaged on that whole process, so very soon we’ll be enacting that regulation, which puts into effect the law, and it’ll be the first place in the country where that’s happening.”

But the new laws don’t cover retrospective legislation, which is why after a multi-year battle, ALH Group received the liquor licence variation to build a new Dan Murphy’s at Como Hotel in Perth.

“The application in Como was underway some seven years ago. It’s been going for a long time so we had to, in fairness, say to anyone who had an application underway that they would be dealt with under the previous regulations,” said Papalia.

“That aside, there was another application in Mainland which was determined in favour of the smaller guys and really against the big box liquor barns. So from now on, or once the regulations are enacted, once they’re signed off by the Governor, essentially, they will be a consideration. They will enable the Director of Liquor Licensing to be able to consider that maybe there’s already enough and there may be a reasonable supply of alcohol in a particular geographical area.”

Sly grogging

Western Australia, with its huge geographical area and its many sparsely populated remote communities, has areas that have self-requested liquor bans. But this has led to ‘sly grogging’, so new laws have been passed giving police permission to pour out alcohol if sly grogging is suspected.

“Some 24 of our remote communities have requested that they have no alcohol. We’ll only go in at their request and we’ll declare an area to be liquor free and the police can then enforce it. What we’ve done is we’ve empowered the police to have more authority around intercepting what they call sly grogging, where someone goes and buys alcohol legitimately – but large volumes – and then drives into an area where it’s banned and sells it at ridiculous prices.

“In the past, under the current laws they’ve been able to intercept that, but they must hold it for them and if they can’t prove that they were sly grogging, they have to give it back to them.

“We’ve changed the law, so it will enable police to be able to, on the balance of probabilities, if they believe that someone’s engaged in sly grogging, they can tip it out in front of them, which would be a pretty bad disincentive.

“We’re about to roll out regulations around that. That’s a big deal in the regions, particularly in remote Aboriginal communities and we hope it will help. It won’t be the only thing but it’s another thing we can do.

“There’s a whole range of initiatives to deal with alcohol abuse, we’re doing a whole range of responses across government. This is one of the things that we think we can do, BDR is another and we’ll look for opportunities to work with industry on that because that’s the only way to work. If we get rogue behaviour on behalf of the industry, it won’t work. If we get collaborative behaviour, whatever we propose will work.”