The following Letter to the Editor was sent to The Australian newspaper in response to an article it published on Monday 18 September 2017
Comments arguing for Pilbara-wide bans of full-strength alcohol attributed to new WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson in “Pub with no beer taps new spirit” (Page 6, 18/09/2017) are understandable but if accurate, misdirected and ultimately, unhelpful.
The Liquor Stores Association of WA (LSAWA) fully supports work to stop the supply of alcohol, other legal substances such as paint and illicit drugs to those with addiction and abuse problems. However, using the very blunt instrument of blanket bans of a legal product across one or more communities, not only unfairly disadvantages the vast majority of consumers who partake responsibly but perhaps of greater concern, depletes the ability of the region to overcome the core of this complex problem for itself.
Most, including the LSAWA, can sympathise with police growing tired of having to repeatedly manage the same small group of individuals who cause disruption and pain to others after abusing legal and illicit substances. However, as the article itself attests, even a total ban on all alcohol sales in Roebourne simply moved the majority of the problem elsewhere and counter-intuitively, failed to stop the abuse of alcohol locally.
As a result, the article suggests police are now advocating for “region-wide” alcohol restrictions to try to stop people leaving the so-called dry town to buy liquor. Obviously every “region” has a boundary and therefore it can be reasonably expected that those close to that line will simply drive to the next region to access the product of their choice. The only logical conclusion to this mentality is state-wide restrictions, which, given the intent of restrictions was to only impact on a small minority of unwell people, is clearly not a desirable outcome.
The second and often overlooked outcome of these high-profile blanket bans is the impact they have on the reputation and ultimately, “liveability” and resilience of the regions being targeted.
While tourism and town planning clearly aren’t within the remit of the police, repeatedly identifying towns (and soon, whole regions?) as being so out of the control that local police cannot maintain order without making a legal product illegal damages the external reputation of the locality in question. If one is to consider the long-term, logical outcome of this, it is reasonable to expect a future devoid of visitors and immigration, thus crippling the capacity of the town (or region) to outgrow and change its current sub-par culture. It is entirely foreseeable that many of these towns will become places where “outsiders” only go for FIFO or DIDO work and leave as soon as it’s done.
The LSAWA and its members are committed to the responsible service of alcohol. We also understand that some individuals have mental health problems and addictions to illicit drugs as well as perfectly legal products that are safe when used as intended.
However, blanket policy changes that restrict the ability of legitimate businesses to trade equally with their counterparts only a short drive away, deny equal access to the majority of consumers who use these products responsibly and tarnish a whole regional town with the reputation of being unmanageable by the police is not an ideal – or even sensible – response to what are genuine and complex health issues for a few individuals.
Instead, we need less scapegoating, more tools to identify and limit the supply of alcohol to troublesome individuals and greater resourcing and cooperation between government, business and community leaders.
Peter Peck, CEO