Pilbara needs better alcohol awareness: Mission Australia

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Mission Australia chief executive James Toomey and Pilbara regional leader Brooke Draper in Karratha.
Camera IconMission Australia chief executive James Toomey and Pilbara regional leader Brooke Draper in Karratha. Credit: Pilbara News, Alicia Perera

Leading staff members of social service charity Mission Australia say there needs to be a more “sophisticated” way of thinking about the problem of alcohol abuse to address the issue in the Pilbara.

On a visit to the Pilbara last month, Mission Australia chief executive James Toomey said high levels of alcohol misuse in the Pilbara — which are the subject of a WA Police application before the Director of Liquor Licensing for tougher region-wide restrictions — were not unique and restrictions could only go so far unless people refined their way of thinking about acceptable levels of drinking.

“I think there are two things that tend to get put together — one is alcohol misuse, and one is antisocial behaviour which arises from alcohol misuse, and there’s a tendency to assume that if you eliminate alcohol misuse you eliminate the antisocial behaviour that arises from it,” he said.

“Actually there’s a reason for the antisocial behaviour and the reason is that people are not sufficiently well socially connected into their communities, so they don’t understand what they’re doing is antisocial and actually is not acceptable in their communities.

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“I think it’s necessary for all of a community to reinforce the settings about what’s acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and not have a kind of double standard about a level of acceptable drunkenness and unacceptable drunkenness, because if you’re drinking, actually knowing the different... is very arbitrary so you can’t make that decision in the moment.”

Mission Australia Pilbara regional leader Brooke Draper said any alcohol restrictions should be implemented in combination with better community education about alcohol-related harm.

“I think there’s a huge focus on banning or not banning, but at the end of the day, around that antisocial behaviour I agree there’s a whole range of things that usually sit behind that as well,” she said.

“Yes we need (specific services) around working with individuals as required, but there also needs to be education around the impact of alcohol misuse within our communities... that drunken behaviour or publicly drunken behaviour is not acceptable.”

She said education needed to start with younger people and be delivered in collaboration with a range of different groups in the community.

Mr Toomey also said he was concerned about the lack of access to early prevention services for mental health there was in the region.

“I think it’s necessary to focus on having more intervention and prevention activities and community awareness ... to raise an understanding in the community of what constitutes mental illness and work on the stigma associated with being mentally ill,” he said.

“If it was less stigmatised and easier to access lower entry point services, then it would be less likely that people would become acutely unwell.”

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