Pilbara alcohol bans described as ‘short-sighted’ and ‘clumsy’

16 January, 2019 by Andy Young

Western Australia’s Director of Liquor Licensing has introduced a number of restrictions regarding the purchase of packaged alcohol in the state’s Pilbara region.

From 31 March the restrictions will see a total ban on the sale of packaged liquor on Sundays as well as a ban on the sale of cask and fortified wine and beer in glass bottles bigger than 750ml.

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Additionally the changes will also restrict the amount of alcohol people will be able to buy in one day to one carton of full-strength beer, three bottles of wine or one litre of spirits. A person may be able to purchase a combination of beer and wine within the restricted amount.

Director of Liquor Licensing, Duncan Ord said the imposition of further restrictions on the accessibility and consumption of liquor in the region was in the public interest.

“There’s been liquor restrictions in Pilbara since 2003 and they have been adjusted from time to time,” he told ABC Radio.

“But the Liquor Control Act, provides for the police and for health to make representations to my office around concerns with harm being caused by liquor consumption and the causes they foresee through the actions they are taking in the community. [They] requested potentially imposing restrictions on the availability of alcohol either by volume or particular time, to lessen harm and to try to provide opportunity for services to help those who do unfortunately abuse alcohol from time to time.

“Our role is to find a balance between the responsible drinkers of alcohol, to try and not impact on them unreasonably, while making sure the restrictions are effective enough to improve difficult circumstances that are faced by people in the community, try to turnaround their health and other behaviours and make for liveable communities.”

A DISAPPOINTING BANDAID DECISION

However, CEO of the Liquor Stores Association of WA, Peter Peck, described the move as lazy and one which would not only impact small businesses and the majority of the population who did the right thing, but it would also fail local problem drinkers and their families.

“With such a proactive State Government pursuing true liquor reform, it seems the Director of Liquor Control did not get the memo,” Peck said.

“This is 1970s thinking to an issue that we have learned needs a more nuanced, collaborative and well thought out solution. It is a very disappointing bandaid decision that will not work and have large negative impacts for the entire region.

“To truly try to help people and families affected by problem drinking, a multi-disciplined, collaborative approach incorporating both proactive and reactive strategies is required. The imposition of liquor restrictions is very unlikely to change the behaviour of a relatively small group of individuals and creates the perception that the area is a dangerous community to live and visit.

“There needs to be a targeted approach to those who abuse alcohol rather than region wide restrictions which impact the entire community. In this regard, a Banned Drinkers Register system will ensure those causing the issues are targeted rather than the entire community. This was highlighted by numinous groups to the Director but he has failed to listen to the advice.

“Every stakeholder, including police, mental health, health and community services, as well as the private sector, needs to collaborate and play their part in delivering a solution to help unwell individuals and protect the broader community against anti-social behaviour and overly prescriptive regulation.

“Through the Pilbara Liquor Accords LSAWA members have worked closely with police and voluntarily ceased packaged liquor sales when requested.

“The real need is to get additional health and support services to people who are problem drinkers and their families because they will always find a way around blanket restrictions like the ones announced.”

The LSA told TheShout that it is working with the Australian Hotels Association WA (AHAWA) and the McGowan Government on developing an electronic takeaway alcohol management system to ensure particular individuals are not able to purchase packaged liquor. The association said that this, combined with broader support services, will make a real difference to problem drinking without penalising the majority of the community who do the right thing.

EFFECTIVELY UNENFORCEABLE

Bradley Woods, CEO of AHAWA was also critical of the restrictions, telling ABC Radio they were “clumsy”.

He added: “The whole purpose of this was to try and address problem drinking among recidivist alcoholics that couldn’t control themselves. One of the conditions is the issue around daily restrictions and there is nothing to stop someone going from bottle shop to liquor store to bottle shop and doing a collection of more than they are allowed to from one venue.

“The minute that isn’t addressed and that is not actually dealt with the other restrictions fade away to nothing because one venue can restrict to a carton a day, but if they are shopping around to other venues then it is effectively unenforceable.”

Speaking about how the restrictions will be managed, Ord added: “The liquor industry essentially manages under a licensing regime, so we licence people and they have to comply with the conditions. So the front line are the people who are running liquor outlets and so on. There is training for people who are doing that to make sure they are aware of the law and what they can and can’t do.

“We have a very responsible liquor industry in Western Australia, we have a very well trained staff and they manage these rules as they change, very responsibly.

“We don’t expect them to be the policeman beyond the point of where they are making the sales themselves. They know what they can sell to any one person at any one time and that is their responsibility. Broadly the police will consider if there is any untoward behaviour or there are people to get around the restrictions, and there are abilities for the police to act if they have concerns the quantity of alcohol any people are carrying.

“The way the regime works, we impose restrictions that don’t have a time limit to them, but what we do is continue to monitor the impact of them. At any time that we believe the restrictions are needed then they can be modified or changed, they could be increased or they could be reduced.”

The new changes also require licensees to submit returns of alcohol sales data by product type and quantity and also prohibits licensee from any external promotion which advertises the price of full strength “mainstream” packaged beer.