Pilbara community reacts to incoming liquor restrictions

Alicia Perera, Shannon Beattie and Peter de KruijffPilbara News
West Pilbara Liquor Accord chairman and Fiorita Deli owner Bart Parsons.
Camera IconWest Pilbara Liquor Accord chairman and Fiorita Deli owner Bart Parsons. Credit: Alicia Perera

Liquor store owners, local governments and politicians have criticised tough new restrictions for takeaway alcohol in the Pilbara announced by the Director of Liquor Licensing last week.

The changes, which will apply to the whole region, will include a ban on the purchase of takeaway alcohol on Sundays, prevent promotion of full-strength beer and introduce daily takeaway limits of one bottle of spirits or a combination of a carton of beer and three bottles of wine during the week.

The restrictions are due to come into effect on March 31.

West Pilbara licensees, who have slammed the plan, are expected to meet this week to discuss a possible appeal of the decision.

West Pilbara Liquor Accord chairman and bar owner Bart Parsons said the restrictions unfairly penalised the majority of responsible drinkers in the region and did not help those with real problems.

“It’s very disappointing for Karratha as a region compared to the rest of the North West, because Karratha has made so much progress, leaps and bounds to comparable places in the North West,” he said.

“If there’s a wild house party in Clarkson and there is a riot in Perth why don’t they shut down the bottle shops in Perth?

“Seems like disparity to me.”

Most Pilbara local governments have also spoken out in opposition to the move.

Shire of Ashburton president Kerry White said councillors were “disappointed” and “frustrated” with the decision, which had come despite most of the community expressing a lack of support.

“We therefore ask that the decision to impose the liquor restrictions as proposed be reviewed,” she said.

City of Karratha Mayor Peter Long also said councillors supported the “vast majority” of residents’ “strong opposition” to further restrictions.

“The City of Karratha supports a targeted approach for problem users, such as the introduction of a banned drinkers register, which would more effectively address alcohol-related harm to individuals, families and the community, rather than a Pilbara-wide ‘blanket ban’ that impacts the majority of residents who consume alcohol responsibly,” he said.

“(The City) believes more State Government investment into social support services is required to address alcohol abuse in specific towns and communities.”

“Council is concerned these liquor restrictions will negatively impact local businesses and consumer choice, which detracts from our vision to become Australia’s most liveable regional city.”

Both Karratha and Ashburton councils have previously conducted community surveys in which 60 and 66 per cent of residents respectively were against further restrictions.

Town of Port Hedland Mayor Camilo Blanco said the local government acknowledged the decision but did not agree with it, while Shire of East Pilbara president Lynne Craigie said the restrictions were only a short-term solution and more community education around alcohol abuse was needed “if we really want to see change”.

Pilbara MLA Kevin Michel said while alcohol consumption was a concern in the region and he supported some aspects of the restrictions, for the most part he shared the community’s concerns.

“While some of the restrictions have merit, personally I think some are unworkable and will unfairly impact local residents who do the right thing,” he said.

“To think people won’t just go from one bottle shop to another to get around some of the restrictions — such as the limit of 30 cans of beer a day, is naïve.”

“I’ll be keeping a close eye on how these restrictions go.”

However, chief executive of Hedland alcohol and drugs service provider Bloodwood Tree, Kelly Howlett, said the organisation believed the decision was “the best of a compromise determination” and supported some of the measures.

“At the end of the day, this is but just one of a whole suite of tools that are available to counter chronic alcohol dependency challenges within a community,” she said.

“Dependency issues are complex, require intensive resourcing and service delivery, including considerable individualised wrap around support and a suite of treatment options available/on offer to the individual, in order to be effective.”

Ms Howlett admitted the service had some concerns about a potential increase in sly grogging and secondary supply.

Pilbara District Police Superintendent Paul Coombes said the regional office would “engage with all parties concerned at an appropriate time”.

Director of Liquor Licensing Duncan Ord defended the new restrictions, saying services in the region, where alcohol consumption was higher than the rest of WA, could not keep up.

“The restrictions on volume and sales is a more practical imposition than trying to increase policing of alcohol in the community more broadly with people spread across such a long distance,” he said.

In another measure aimed at countering alcohol issues in the Pilbara, a Northern Territory-style banned drinkers register is also due to be introduced in the first quarter of this year.

According to past surveys, the proposal has the support of most licensees and residents in the region.

Mission Australia, which operates the Pilbara Community Alcohol and Drug Service, declined to comment.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails