Police in a regional Western Australia community under what’s been dubbed the strictest alcohol laws in the country have been given even more power to crack down on the issue.
On Monday, the state’s Racing and Gaming Minister Reece Whitby announced new powers for local police in Carnarvon, a remote coastal town about 900km north of Perth.
Aimed at eradicating illegal alcohol sales known as sly grogging, the regulations restrict the amount of alcohol that can be carried in a vehicle.
Police also now have the power to seize and dispose of alcohol on the spot.
The carriage limits allow for the legal transport of either a carton of beer, cider or pre-mixed spirits, three bottles of wine, a litre of spirits or fortified wine, or a combination of two products per adult in the vehicle daily.
Vehicles transporting more than five passengers can only carry quantities of alcohol for five people. Still, the government noted tourists, pastoralists, station owners, and operators of remote work sites are exempt.
Sly grogging refers to the sale of liquor without a licence, often to remote Aboriginal communities, usually at a heavily inflated price.
“These carriage limits support the liquor restrictions introduced in May,” Mr Whitby said.
“They will be a deterrent for those who prey on the vulnerable by illegally selling alcohol at inflated prices to make a profit.
“The new regulations will give police the power to crack down on sly groggers who trade in misery and profit by supplying the alcohol that fuels family violence, crime and chaos.
“Alcohol-related harm is a longstanding, complex issue with no easy fix. This is the next step in our ongoing commitment to minimise alcohol abuse and make meaningful, sustained change for the region.”
The changes are added on top of controversial liquor laws implemented earlier this year aimed at stamping out alcohol-fuelled crime in the town of about 5,200.
In May, the small coastal town known for its large fruit and vegetable industry was slapped with heavy restrictions after years of trying to self-regulate liquor sales itself.
The town’s liquor accord was labelled “beyond pathetic” by WA’s then-Premier Mark McGowan in February, who claimed his new laws were “tougher than what’s been put in place in Alice Springs”.
It was a characterisation the liquor accord vehemently rejected.
All Carnarvon locals are limited to daily purchases of 1.25 litres (a slab of cans) of beer, cider or pre-mixed spirits with an alcohol percentage of less than 6 per cent, or 3.75 litres if over that amount.
Customers can also buy just 1.5 litres of wine, 1 litre of spirits and 1 litre of fortified wine.
The measures also ban the sale of any takeaway alcohol on Sunday or Monday and limit trade to between 12pm and 7pm on any other day.
Wine by bottle or cask must be sold for at least $15; wherever a product is available in cans, it shouldn’t be sold in glass.
A Banned Drinkers Register, already used in parts of the Pilbara, Kimberley, and the Goldfields, was also expanded to include Carnarvon and nearby Gascoyne Junction.
The register requires bottle shop staff to check the identification of every customer against the register of banned drinkers with a scanner at the point of sale.
As of June, just 14 people from Carnarvon and nearby Gascoyne Junction had been placed on the Banned Drinkers Register – only one was voluntary.
Local have mixed feelings
The catalyst for the alcohol crackdown was a spike in crime throughout 2022 and early 2023.
Of those, an overwhelming majority pertained to properties, mainly affecting local businesses, but during a visit to the town in June, news.com.au learned the reception to the new laws was mixed.
Nathan Condo, who owns two of the town’s three bottle stores, said the laws blindsided him, devastatingly impacting his business.
He was left with over 20 pallets of glass stubbies he could no longer sell.
“With the stroke of a pencil, they have treated us like criminals, and I haven’t had so much as a warning in the last seven years,” he told news.com.au at the time.
According to the latest WA Police statistics, the Carnarvon area has so far recorded 644 offences this calendar year against the 2022 total of 1,171.
Paul Dixon, president of the Carnarvon Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said there was “no doubt” the laws had contributed to a downturn of crime in Carnarvon, though they were “onerous”.
“All businesses – not just the ones selling alcohol – are a little bit concerned there is going to be an effect where people are more than likely not going to come to the town,” Mr Dixon said concerning the town’s position as a significant stop on Western Australia’s northern tourism corridor.
“If you reduce the speed limit to 30km/h – it’s going to reduce the road toll, but it’s going to give everyone the s**ts”.
“Are we worse than Alice Springs?”
Jackie Cameron, a member of the Carnarvon Community Patrol that monitors local kids on the streets at night, told news.com.au the laws had made a negligible difference to the group’s workload.
“I couldn’t tell you if there’s more out now than before the restrictions,” Ms Cameron said.
“A lot of people say it’s not the alcohol that’s the trouble in this town. It’s the drugs, which I suppose is everywhere (in WA).”