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WA authorities rule out hardline takeaway alcohol bans across Kimberley, Pilbara

Western Australia's liquor authority has ruled out supporting a police-backed proposal to ban the sale of nearly all takeaway alcohol across the north of the state.

The Director of Liquor Licensing, Lanie Chopping, has been conducting independent inquiries into how alcohol-related harm should be addressed, including whether all takeaway drinks, except light beer, should be banned in the Kimberley and Pilbara.

The process was launched after a 2019 application by former police commissioner, now governor, Chris Dawson who backed the hardline ban.

His successor at WA Police, Col Blanch, gave in-principle support last year.

However this measure has been ruled out after a lengthy process of community consultation.

The regions are often compared to war zones due to alcohol-fuelled violence and crime, and local bottle shops are already subject to restrictions such as volume limits and limited opening hours. 

A Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries spokesperson said these restrictions were sufficient to minimise harm in the Pilbara alongside other community-specific social programs. 

The spokesperson said restrictions would be changed in the Kimberley towns of Wyndham and Kununurra to align them with rules introduced in other parts of the region at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic-era restrictions will now be enforced indefinitely in Broome, Derby, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Wyndham and Kununurra.

"The submissions lead to the conclusions that restrictions are needed to stem the issues associated with excessive misuse of alcohol in communities," the spokesperson said.

"However, restrictions alone will not address the root causes of these issues, nor serve to help those suffering due to alcohol abuse."

WA Police declined to comment.

Decision supported by local leaders

The state government opposed the potential ban and threw its support behind a banned drinkers register (BDR) which was also preferred by industry.

The BDR stops individual problem drinkers from buying takeaway alcohol in the Pilbara, Kimberley and Goldfields regions.

Karratha and Districts Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Tanya Dodd said she did not support the blanket ban on takeaway alcohol and was glad it had been ruled out.

"We have a lot of people up here that work really hard and restrictions on them are not fair, so I'm glad the government has retracted that [blanket ban]," she said.

Ms Dodd said it would not be fair to implement far-reaching alcohol restrictions in the Pilbara and Kimberley, while the rest of the state was unaffected.

"I know it's got to do with tourism, and they wouldn't want people to lose business in the South West or Perth, but why is it [being considered] just for the Pilbara and Kimberley?" she said.

"It should be across the board if the government wants to be serious about it, because domestic violence happens all around the world."

Last year the government said the BDR would be reformed in July after figures revealed less than 200 people were on the register.

Broome Shire President Harold Tracey, who also chairs the town's liquor accord, said the indefinite return to pandemic-era restrictions in the Kimberley was a tested solution to some of the town's dysfunction, and preferred this option to a wholesale ban.

"It has been a drive right across the leadership in the Kimberley to try and have some uniform restrictions," he said.

"The [police] commissioner's proposal was never going to work … we don't have measures in place to deal with addiction, we don't have anything like that in place at all.

"We've had that period over COVID where we've tested these restrictions and it seems to be a fair and reasonable outcome."

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