Director of liquor licensing Lanie Chopping steps in to Carnarvon liquor accord, cop shortage, safe house

Josh Zimmerman, Rebecca Le May and Jessica MoroneyMidwest Times
Racing and Gaming Minister Reece Whitby.
Camera IconRacing and Gaming Minister Reece Whitby. Credit: Kelsey Reid/The West Australian

Carnarvon’s so-called liquor accord has copped a second spray from the McGowan Government in less than 24 hours, with Racing and Gaming Minister Reece Whitby saying it “had every chance to do the right thing” before the director of liquor licensing was forced to step in.

Lanie Chopping on Wednesday revealed she was considering restrictions on alcohol sales in a bid to combat shockingly high rates of booze-fuelled domestic violence, crime and health problems — including deaths — in the Gascoyne town.

Premier Mark McGowan had accused the accord — a voluntary agreement between liquor stores, pubs, police, local authorities and the Department of Health to try to reduce harm caused by alcohol misuse — of being hastily convened before his recent visit with Mr Whitby.

The minister said he sat in on an accord meeting, “asked them what they need to fix the problems . . . and not one member spoke up with any ideas or suggestions”.

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“It was crickets,” Mr Whitby told reporters on Thursday.

Racing and Gaming Minister Reece Whitby addresses the media regarding the Perth Casino Royal Commission.
Camera IconRacing and Gaming Minister Reece Whitby addresses the media regarding the Perth Casino Royal Commission. Credit: Kelsey Reid/The West Australian

“I’m not surprised the director of liquor licensing stepped in . . . the best they could do was to come up with a suggestion of a very light touch, very weakened and ineffective restrictions — they couldn’t even agree on that.”

A member of the accord, Al’s Liquor Bottlemart manager Nathan Condo told the Geraldton Guardian members didn’t speak out at the “intimidating” meeting in fear of their business being singled out.

“We’ve been voluntarily doing liquor restrictions for nearly two years on top of COVID and have always complied with what the police ask of us. For (the minister) to turn around and say we’re being greedy business owners who aren’t playing the game is disappointing to hear and unfounded,” he said.

The minister’s scathing comments come after Mr McGowan told The West Australian that the accord’s handful of “ineffective and useless rules simply won’t cut it” and it was time for not just “serious liquor restrictions” but also other action.

“Carnarvon has never had ongoing alcohol restrictions. It is time for change,” he said.

“I saw it for myself — homes destroyed, streets littered with smashed bottles, children allowed to walk those streets when they should have been in school. It was confronting.”

A massive brawl in Carnarvon involving approx 100 people which resulted in three arrests and head injuries to a nine year old who was transferred to Perth.
Camera IconA massive brawl in Carnarvon involving approx about 100 people which resulted in three arrests and head injuries to a nine-year-old who was transferred to Perth. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

Mr Whitby said WA Police had reported local children wandering the streets between 8pm and 4am because they were too scared to be at home with drunken adults and “the increased threat of mental, physical or sexual abuse”.

“They can’t get a feed, a meal at home,” he told reporters.

“Their school attendance has dropped off from 2017 to 2022 . . . from 75 per cent to 69 per cent.

“Carnarvon was and is in crisis, and we need to act, and the liquor accord was given the opportunity to take the initiative and it failed.”

Proposals being considered include packaged liquor sales being prohibited on Sunday and Monday, and on other days only being allowed between midday and 7pm.

Member for North West Central Merome Beard said restrictions on alcohol were an appropriate circuit breaker to deal with social challenges in these circumstances, but more needed to be done across affected communities.

“There have been liquor restrictions in place in Carnarvon as required over many years,” she said.

“Significant investment, support and rehabilitation services, and a crackdown on imported illicit drugs need to be part of the holistic strategy to address crime and antisocial behaviour.”

Shire president Eddie Smith said the Shire were running a drop-in centre for youth to visit, but due to legislation they couldn’t stay overnight.

“They can get a feed, watch TV or play pool. It gets them off the street and makes them feel safe for a while but they have to go home,” he said.

Carnarvon Shire President Eddie Smith.
Camera IconCarnarvon Shire president Eddie Smith. Credit: Trevor Collens/The West Australian

Cr Smith said there was a small cohort of people who could take advantage of a safe house and it would be beneficial, but it was important for the Target 120 program to get off the ground so people could work with the parents.

“It’s a complex problem that requires a lot of actions, maybe that’s why no one has tackled it in the past,” he said.

Shocking data that was published announcing the proposals include alcohol consumption per adult in Carnarvon being 2.4 times the overall WA rate, while from 2010 to 2019, the number of deaths attributable to booze in the town was 151 per cent higher than for the rest of the State.

In the latest terrifying incident, a boy suffered serious head injuries being hit by a flying object during a riot on Sunday, understood to have involved about 100 people.

The brawl comes as figures in parliament revealed Mid West-Gascoyne towns were short 20 officers across the state and was further evidence of a staff crisis in WA Police.

Cr Smith said the police officers in the town were doing the best they could, but were constantly run off their feet.

“From where I sit, they are inundated with issues,” he said.

“They just can’t keep up.”

So far, Carnarvon OIC Sen Sgt Mark Ardley confirmed 11 people were charged aged between 12 and 56. Charges include assault, taking part in a riot, unlawful wounding and acts intended to cause grievous bodily harm.

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