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Mixed reactions to proposed liquor bans in the Pilbara.

Marley Amphlett, ECU Reporter

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The Pilbara region in WA could be facing tougher alcohol restrictions if a police proposal on the matter goes ahead. While no decision has been made yet, WA Police have recommended restrictions on full-strength alcohol with the Liquor Licensing Authority.

Police initially applied for the restrictions in Port Hedland in February.

Towns affected by the restrictions would include Karratha, Newman, Onslow, Paraburdoo and Tom Price. The proposal has been met with mixed reactions from local residents.

Allan Cooper, CEO of the Shire of East Pilbara, said: “Personally I don’t think it will be effective.” He believes the quantity vs. alcohol content should be considered. “What about scotch or anything that comes in 1L or larger bottles?”

Mr Cooper questioned why only the Pilbara was being targeted when the issues of drug and alcohol addictions are a state-wide concern. “Why isolate one particular area?” he said, adding: “Picking areas in isolation creates a problem … There’s got to be a wider strategy.”

He continued: “I don’t think there’s enough resources in the state to cater for the drug and alcohol problems!”

Lynne Craigie, President of the Shire of East Pilbara, said “Although alcohol bans are helpful, they are not the full answer and must be accompanied by support services.

“People who have chronic alcohol addiction will not cope well with a simple reduction and it is irresponsible to think that in isolation this can be effective. However, any attempt to minimise harm created by alcohol in our community is welcomed, just please do it in the right way.”

Robert Barrett, Pilbara local, said “The dependency on alcohol in this town is disconcerting … The idea of a ban on full strength alcohol is an honourable strategy to an ongoing problem.

“On the other side of the argument there are many locals who drink socially and responsibly. The town’s tradition (of drinking) is a double-edged sword. While it can mend fences and cement friendships, it can also be harmful, ” Mr Barrett added.

Brooke Patterson, owner of Mad Clappin’ Harry’s restaurant in Marble Bar (and former drug and alcohol counselor in Newman), said: “Taking peoples’ freedom to choose isn’t going to stop them from being an alcoholic.” She expressed concern that the ban would force black markets and instances of ‘sly grogging’.

“I can wholeheartedly say the restrictions don’t do a damn thing to curb the issue. The focus needs to be on access to appropriate services for those who CHOOSE to ruin their lives with substances when they realize they want/need help,” she explained.

“Not a single client I have ever had has told me that if they couldn’t get access to what they wanted they would stop. They have, however, told me if they can’t get alcohol, they’d smoke weed. If they can’t do that they’d take ice. If you use and you are motivated to maintain your level of disconnection with reality you will manage to keep doing so one way or another,” she added.

 

Linton Rumble, Paraburdoo resident and Councillor for the Shire of Ashburton, said: “I would be interested to see how the police enforce this.” He also implied that he wasn’t sure if there were enough facilities available in the Pilbara to cater for those identifying as having a drug or alcohol problem. “People may be too embarrassed, or not aware they have problems,” he said.

Jane Smith, former resident of Fitzroy Crossing, discussed her experience of living in a town where such a ban is already enforced. With less people spending their time drinking, a window of opportunity for family relationships to strengthen was created.

“Firstly it is important to note that… [the ban] was one strategy in a number of strategies. Secondly it was instigated by individuals from the community itself who were putting up with the trauma. This is largely why I think it has been successful,” she said.

“I was working in a family support role and noticed the difference dramatically. Children were playing with families in the afternoon rather than wandering around. I think it’s a good strategy for reprieve for the community to think collectively about what next.”

She said police in Fitzroy Crossing experienced a dramatic drop in call outs to crime scenes of domestic disputes and violence.

Marley Amphlett
An aerial view of mining town Paraburdoo, one of the towns that could be affected by the proposed liquor ban.

Some residents see the proposed ban as a form of punishment, as opposed to a harm reduction strategy. It could also limit consumer rights to choose when purchasing alcohol.

Shannon Cats, current Newman resident, said: “Banning this will just create criminals from average citizens. How about the courts actually punish those that require it? No more slaps on the wrist. Ask the Police. They feel the same frustration when they keep arresting people only for the revolving door courts to spit them back out into the community.

“Why punish the majority for a minority?” agreed Emily Cleaver, Process Tech for BHP. Mrs Cleaver also stated the current alcohol restrictions in the mining town of Newman are “one bottle of spirit or one carton”.

Mark Ward from Newman expressed his frustration. ”Punishing the average person for deciding to have a drink is not what should be looked at. Why should Pilbara residents not have the freedom of choice the same as our city counterparts? If there are issues with certain individuals, then deal with those individuals on a needs basis. Don’t tar everyone with the same brush. Also restrictions are already in place in some areas and I would hate to be a tourist with different rules everywhere I decided to pull up.”

Peter Schmidt, an occasional drinker, said “I’m not okay with EVERYONE copping the punishment for the minority yet again. Personally I might have a drink 2 or 3 times a year, so I don’t want it watered down!”

Danny Doe, Pilbara Resident, said: “Banning full strength alcohol from the Pilbara will only be met with it being ordered online and sold locally and driven in from other areas. Where there is a will there is a way.”

Other Pilbara residents were more open to the idea, hoping that a consequence of the ban would be a reduction in alcohol/drug related violent crimes.

Karen Lou Willock, former Port Hedland and current Newman resident, said: “I think calling it a punishment is pretty harsh. If there are stats that support this kind of trial where there has been a serious reduction in alcohol related violence then do it.

“We need to better fund our police, have local/regional rehab facilities and tougher penalties that are upheld for ANYONE that commits a crime when under the influence.”

Megan Ewing said: “I’m okay with restrictions as long as they’re evidence-based and proven to make a difference. I can be organised enough that it won’t affect me personally. I’m not okay with the powers that be coming up with ill-thought out ideas and trying them out on us like guinea pigs.”

Mark Woodall, Crane coordinator at BHP, described an alternate system used in the Northern Territory. “I lived in the NT under their rules where you had to show your license to buy takeaway alcohol. If you were arrested for alcohol-related issues you could not buy take away alcohol. If you lost your license for drink driving you could not buy takeaway alcohol. That is a better system instead of punishing the whole community.”

Dr Jennie Gray, Deputy CEO of the WA Council of Social Service, said: “Generally yes (full-strength liquor bans) can be an effective strategy in conjunction with a range of other initiatives to create the most effective and efficient strategy.”

Dr Gray offered an alternative solution, similar to a suggestion from CEO Allan Cooper, “A restriction on alcohol volume instead of strength would be a strategy to consider as an alternative. A consultative approach with the communities, police, policy experts and other stakeholders is most important for implementing the most efficient and effective strategy.

“The Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor stated that submissions by WA Police and the West Pilbara Alcohol Management Group had suggested the quality of life in the Pilbara region was directly affected by significantly high rates of alcohol-related harm.

“WA Country Health also report significantly higher criminal offences, hospitalisations, and 3-4 times higher alcohol-related adult and child death rates.”

WA Premier Mark McGowan has stated that a full inquiry is required before a decision on the proposal can be made by the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor.

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Quality journalism by ECU students
Mixed reactions to proposed liquor bans in the Pilbara.