Alcohol restrictions are ‘dehumanising’, says former Western Australian of the Year Tracy Westerman

WA authorities are failing to address the root cause of alcohol abuse, according to psychologist and former Western Australian of the Year Tracy Westerman.

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

It comes as WA Liquor Licensing Director Lanie Chopping continues an independent investigation into how the state should address alcohol-related harms, including if all takeout beverages except light beer should be banned in both regions. .

The investigation was launched after a 2019 request from former Police Commissioner Chris Dawson, who backed the outright ban; his successor, Colonel Blanch, has been supportive in principle.

Alcohol restrictions, such as volume limits and restricted opening hours for bottle shops, already apply in all regions.

Northern WA is often compared to a war zone due to crime rates, domestic violence, and anti-social behavior.

VB beer cans.
Authorities are considering banning almost all takeout grog in Northern WA.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

Underlying causes ‘ignored’

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

“The hard part is really dealing with alcohol and drug dependencies and funding programs that we know really provide our best chances for prevention,” he said.

“Restricting human rights is something this government has a love affair with.”

Empty liquor bottles on a red dirt road.
There are pre-existing alcohol restrictions throughout the WA region.(ABC NewsClaire Campbell)

Westerman said existing and proposed restrictions were “dehumanizing” and that problem drinkers would always find a way to break the rules.

“It’s not really about the problem itself, it’s just moving the problem,” he said.

“People always find a way to access the things they depend on.”

‘Required circuit breaker’

The McGowan government opposes the possible ban and has lent its support to a Prohibited Drinkers Registry (BDR) lawsuit in the North West as well as WA’s Goldfields.

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

RBD technology
A two-year trial of the Register of Prohibited Drinkers is currently operating in the Pilbara.(ABC Pilbara: Louise Miolin)

Michael Livingston of the National Drug Research Institute said tackling alcohol abuse was complex and some level of restraint was required.

However, he said it should be combined with programs that address the root causes of binge drinking.

“It’s a complicated and messy subject. Obviously things are very problematic there in terms of the harm that is experienced from binge drinking,” he said.

“When things are as bad as they are, you need a circuit breaker… but obviously restrictions alone are not the solution.”

A pile of broken bottles and cartons of beer lies on the red earth in front of a house
Alcohol has been linked to crime and antisocial behavior in Northern WA.(abc kimberly)

Dr. Livingston said that without the support of local communities, the chance of a widespread ban succeeding would be significantly reduced.

“Restrictions are most effective when communities support them,” he said.

“Enforcing these types of bans where community support is low is going to be difficult.”

Chopping is expected to finish his investigation in 2023.

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