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Alcohol restrictions are 'dehumanising', says former West Australian of the Year Tracy Westerman

West Australian authorities are not addressing the root cause of alcohol abuse, according to former West Australian of the Year and psychologist Tracy Westerman.

And as officials consider extreme restrictions on takeaway grog in the state's Pilbara and Kimberley regions, a leading expert in alcohol policy, Michael Livingston, says community support is required to successfully reduce drinking.

It comes as Western Australia's director of liquor licensing, Lanie Chopping, continues an independent inquiry into how the state should address alcohol-related harm, including whether all takeaway drinks, except light beer, should be banned in both regions.

The inquiry was launched after a 2019 application by former police commissioner Chris Dawson who backed the outright ban. His successor, Col Blanch, has given in-principle support.

Alcohol restrictions such as volume limits and restricted opening hours for bottle shops are already enforced across the regions.

Northern Western Australia is often compared to a war zone due to crime rates, domestic violence and antisocial behaviour.

Underlying causes 'ignored'

Dr Westerman, a Nyamal woman from the Pilbara, said it was easier for authorities to invest in punitive restrictions rather than preventative measures and social programs.

"The hard thing is to actually deal with alcohol and drug dependencies and fund programs that we know actually give our best opportunities of prevention," she said.

"Restricting human rights is something that this government has a love affair with."

Dr Westerman said the existing and proposed restrictions were "dehumanising" and problem drinkers would always find a way to break the rules.

"It's not actually dealing with the issue itself, it's just moving the issue around," she said.

"People always find a way to access things that they're dependent on."

'Circuit-breaker needed'

The McGowan government is opposed to the potential ban and has thrown its support behind a trial of the Banned Drinkers Register (BDR) in the north west as well as WA's Goldfields.

The BDR is also the preferred policy of the local hospitality and tourism industries, which say  the proposed ban would damage the reputations of the Pilbara and Kimberley and discourage tourists from visiting.

Michael Livingston from the National Drug Research Institute said addressing alcohol abuse was complex, and some level of restriction was required.

However, he said it should be paired with programs which address the root causes of over-drinking.

"It's a messy, complicated issue. Obviously things are hugely problematic up there in terms of the harm that is being experienced from heavy drinking," he said. 

"When things are as bad as they are, you need a circuit-breaker … but obviously on their own, restrictions aren't the solution."

Dr Livingston said without the backing of local communities, the chance of a widespread ban being successful would drop significantly.

"Restrictions are most effective when communities are behind them," he said.

"Enforcing these kinds of bans where community support is low is going to be difficult."

Ms Chopping is expected to finalise her inquiry in 2023.

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