The Liquor Stores Association WA today publicly supported the government’s plan to control the growth of large outlets. It is therefore important that we clarify the eastern states-based ABA did not consult with us regarding this story that aired on ABC TV Perth last night.
The West Australian Government will become the first in the nation to take on the liquor giants with new laws to tackle alcohol-related harm.
It is understood the reforms will tackle the proliferation of stores selling cheap alcohol and are included in proposed changes to the Liquor Control Act.
The move comes as the country’s big grocery chains compete for market share, with bottles of wine now selling for less than a takeaway coffee.
Until now Woolworths, Coles and the discount chain Aldi have faced pockets of local resistance to new stores.
While the industry says there’s no connection between the availability and price of liquor and alcohol-related harm, some communities disagree.
Aboriginal patrol officers, Kerry Courtney and Helen Corbett, are on the frontline of dealing with the impact of alcohol abuse.
Through Nyoongar Outreach Services, the pair offer intervention services to people at risk on the streets of Perth.
The last thing they need is another outlet selling cheap grog.
‘We’re not asking for prohibition’
Nyoongar Outreach Services is one of a number of organisations opposing a plan by Aldi, a new player in WA’s liquor market, to open a liquor section at its store in the Perth area of Belmont.
Aldi has recently been advertising bottles of wine for $2.69.
But figures show Belmont already has nearly double the state’s rate of domestic violence and a higher death rate for alcoholic liver cirrhosis.
Kerry Courtney witnesses the fall-out of alcohol abuse on the streets every day.
His main concern with Aldi’s proposal is the sale of cheap liquor in a supermarket environment.
“Anyone can go to a supermarket. It’s an open area,” he told 7.30.
“If the young ones know there’s cheap alcohol, they will either steal it or buy it.
“They think they’re superman once they’ve had a drink.”
Belmont mayor, Phil Marks, points out that the area already has 70 liquor licences.
“We’re not a wowser council,” he told 7.30.
“It’s not hard to get a drink in Belmont.
“We’re not asking for prohibition.
“But if you are just going to continue pouring alcohol into a city with no restrictions and make it cheaper and cheaper, more people will drink.”
Outlet planned for street drinking hotspot
Across the city at Maylands, Woolworths-owned chain Dan Murphy’s is facing similar resistance to its plan for its latest Perth store.
WA Labor MP Lisa Baker has been leading the fight against the liquor barns.
She’s already successfully campaigned to stop Coles from setting up a First Choice outlet in her electorate.
Now the battle has turned to Dan Murphy’s.
It wants an outlet on a prime site next to Maylands train station, which Ms Baker says is close to a hotspot for street drinking and alcohol-related crime.
“We have a lot of vulnerable people who come into Maylands to get some emergency relief that is provided — over a thousand a week,” she said.
“So you’ve got people coming in who are most likely to be subjected to harm from over-consumption of alcohol and you’ve got a company, Woolworths, that trades under the banner of lowest price guarantee.
“Doesn’t make sense to me.”
Price and consumption
Community resistance to bottle shops isn’t new.
Over the past few years, there have been several cases across the nation. But research has shown that, in more than three quarters of the cases, courts have found in favour of the alcohol industry.
Fergus Taylor of the industry body Alcohol Beverages Australia says low prices and availability don’t increase the harms from alcohol.
“The evidence doesn’t support any increase in alcohol harms as a result of increased availability,” Mr Taylor said.
“It actually shows the opposite.
“In Australia, there are long term downward trends with regards to alcohol harms and consumption.
“At the same time, the amount of outlets has been increasing across the country.”
But Julia Stafford, of the Perth-based McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth, says that assessment is misleading.
“Those overall trends don’t paint the full picture,” she said.
For example, she says, there is an increasing prevalence of harmful drinking among the over 65s.
“There’s a lot of evidence that price matters in terms of alcohol harms,” she said.
“When the price of liquor is cheaper, as a population, we drink more.”
The McCusker Centre has opposed seven of Aldi’s recent liquor licence applications in Western Australia.
Six of them have been approved.
Domestic violence and alcohol ‘inter-connected’
John Harrison has first-hand experience of the impact of cheap alcohol.
He grew up in an alcoholic family and had his first drink when he was just eight. Since then, he has struggled with addiction.
He doesn’t buy the industry’s view that there’s no link between increased availability of alcohol and problem drinking.
“You’d have to be a complete dullard to accept that proposition,” Mr Harrison said.
“I totally disagree with their ability to come in and do what they are doing.
“Domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, youth suicide, all these things are inter-connected.
“Anybody who is peddling this stuff cannot sit back and say there’s no direct link between their product and these public health and social problems.”
Mr Harrison has been sober for the past two years and now mentors others at Cyrenian House treatment service in Perth.
Cyrenian’s chief executive, Carol Daws, is also concerned about Aldi’s model.
“When you are vulnerable to using alcohol in a way that causes you harm, you don’t need to be going into a supermarket and being triggered by the fact that there’s alcohol on the shelf for sale,” she said.
“The most disadvantaged and particularly the heaviest drinkers are going to be accessing it at a cheaper price, and I think that’s concerning”
Calls for alcohol ‘floor price’
The West Australian Government has also been considering the idea of a minimum floor price for alcohol as proposed in a new national draft alcohol strategy by the Federal Health Department.
It is similar to that introduced in Canada and Scotland.
But Fergus Taylor of Alcohol Beverages Australia says minimum prices don’t work.
“It is based on a flawed model that assumes that problem drinkers are going to go into a bottle shop and see that the price has gone up and stop drinking,” Mr Taylor said.
“But in the real world, that just doesn’t happen.”
Julia Stafford of the McCusker Centre disagrees.
“There’s been a lot of work in the UK modelling minimum prices and also a lot of work using Australian data that shows that introducing an appropriate minimum price would reduce drinking amongst the heaviest drinkers but hardly affect moderate drinkers at all,” she said.
Dan Murphy’s and Aldi both declined to be interviewed.
However, in its submission to liquor licensing authorities in WA Aldi said of its Belmont store that a survey had shown that 68 per cent of respondents found the proposed outlet “extremely” or “very” appealing.
Aldi also said that crime in the area was most likely explained by the fact that Belmont is an “inner-city” precinct with high-density residential housing.