Tough booze ban for WA’s Pilbara to reduce alcohol-related violence
Western Australia’s hard-drinking Pilbara mining region will be hit with tough new alcohol restrictions in a bid to crack down on alcohol-related violence and harm.
Following months of speculation, the Director of Liquor Licensing has banned the sale of packaged liquor on Sundays, along with cask and fortified wine, and beer in glass bottles bigger than 750ml from the end of March.
People will only be allowed to buy one carton of full-strength beer a day, three bottles of wine, and one litre of spirits — unless they can prove they are a tourist and the alcohol will be consumed outside of town. The tourist’s details will also be provided to local police within 24 hours.
“Addressing alcohol-related harm and abuse is a community-wide responsibility and cannot be ignored,” Director of Liquor Licensing delegate Peter Minchin said in the much-anticipated ruling.
“I am hopeful that these restrictions, together with other government initiatives, will be the catalyst for positive and sustained change in the Pilbara region.”
A series of emergency alcohol restrictions have been put in place by police in some Pilbara towns in recent weeks, as violence has escalated.
Two weeks ago, bottle shops were closed after fighting broke out in the nearby town of Roebourne.
The figures are stark.
Almost half of all domestic violence incident reports in a year involved alcohol — and a third of these involved children.
In submissions to the Director of Liquor Licensing, the WA Department of Child Protection and Family Support said family and domestic violence was one of the leading reasons for contact with the department.
It is estimated 30 per cent of all children in care in the Pilbara have suspected Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the department said.
Bart Parsons, from the West Pilbara Liquor Accord, is concerned the restrictions will damage the region’s reputation. (ABC North West: Kendall O’Connor )
The WA Government has committed to conducting the state’s first trial of a banned drinkers’ register in a bid to stave off the harsher restrictions.
Local publican and chairman of the West Pilbara Liquor Accord, Bart Parsons, expressed disappointment with the decision.
“Disappointment across the board, to be honest,” he said.
“It’s definitely not great for the stigma of the place.
“It’s not really the right direction that the Pilbara wants to head in. When you’ve got Tourism WA talking about activating the place and you’ve got this sort of thing come out in the news.
“It’s not making people want to come and visit the area.”
Mr Parsons said he did not think the changes would work.
“We are not happy about the fact that we could be making some changes with the banned drinkers’ register, but we are just doing something that has been done time and time again,” he said.
“It segregates parts of society even further. We are not actually helping these people out really, we are just sort of pushing them away to other substances.
“I’d really like to see a holistic approach.”
As part of the restrictions, discounted alcohol promotions will be banned, along with any promotions linking alcohol with any prize or other incentive.
People will be able to order bulk supplies of alcohol if they fill in a form three days earlier, which is provided to police, and taxis will no longer be able to purchase alcohol on behalf of people.
The restrictions follow an application two years ago by police for tighter controls in Port Hedland, where domestic assaults are three times the state rate.
Across the Pilbara, alcohol-related domestic assaults are seven times the city rate, and five times the WA rate.
The excessive consumption of alcohol has been identified as a major causal factor in family violence, non-family violence, and anti-social behaviour in Karratha.
Alcohol-related domestic assault in the Pilbara was seven times the metropolitan rate and almost five times the state rate in 2016.
Alcohol-related assaults are higher than in other parts of the state, and people in the Pilbara drink more than the national average.
Newman Women’s Shelter manager Maggie Lewis welcomed the move, but said increased education was vital.
“Restrictions are great, but for me I think education plays a greater part, long term,” she said.
“Once it’s not in people’s faces it goes off the radar, behaviours go back to what they were.”
Liquor restrictions were regularly enforced in Karratha last year. (ABC North West: Kendall O’Connor)
Port Hedland has had a ban on the sale of alcohol on Sundays since 2004.
Port Hedland Mayor Camilo Blanco welcomed the restrictions, adding they could have been even stronger.
“I think we need to be realistic and support strong changes that reduce that dysfunction in the community,” he said.
“At the end of the day when you have hundreds of kids on the street at night and they are on the street because it’s unsafe in their own home due to excessive alcohol consumption … we need to make a stand and create a better life for those kids who don’t have the ability to change their lives themselves.”
Bloodwood Tree Association, a charity that works with at-risk Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients, said greater treatment options were also needed.
“It does seem to be the best compromise of a very difficult situation, balancing many different interests,” the association’s chief executive officer, Kelly Howlett, said.