THE Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority has rejected an application by Aldi Foods Pty Ltd to sell packaged liquor at its Taree supermarket.
The refusal came after a lengthy period of investigation which addressed the relationship between discount alcohol pricing and social impact, particularly in regard to Taree’s socio-economic background and alcohol-related crime statistics.
The authority (ILGA) took into consideration a lengthy submission by Manning Great Lakes Police Local Area Command, as well as recent media coverage in relation to the social impact of alcohol pricing.
After considering Aldi’s community impact statement, and other material provided to it by way of community submissions, the Authority said it was not satisfied that the overall social impact of the application, if approved, would not be detrimental to the well-being of the local or broader community.
Manning Great Lakes police licensing co-ordinator, Senior Constable Linda Hedley, said this week she was extremely pleased the authority had rejected the application, following evidence of widespread concern from not just the police, but others in the community who lodged submissions.
“There are 10 existing licensed premises with packaged liquor facilities in the Taree CBD alone. As a result, the Taree community is likely to see a more competitive process with the addition of the Aldi store, given their ability as a large retail chain to cover costs elsewhere,” she said in the police submission.
“Customers, particularly the vulnerable and disadvantaged will have access to greater quantities of alcohol (including bulk buying); a situation that is likely to encourage further abuse, and have an overall adverse impact on crime, emergency services, and the health and safety of the community.”
ILGA said that during the application period, no issues were raised by local councils or consent authorities, but Manning Great Lakes Local Area Command provided substantial material including the location of alcohol free zones and other areas considered to be problem areas for problem drinking, and backed it up with latest statistical data.
The NSW Department of Health also did not support the proposal, saying it was likely to contribute to further alcohol related harm and negative health outcomes for the local community and place a strain on the health system.
The application sought a licence to sell alcohol at Aldi’s supermarket on the corner of High and Commerce Streets, from 9am to 7pm Monday to Wednesday and Friday; from 9am to 8pm on Thursday; 8.30am to 6pm on Saturday; and from 10am to 6pm on Sunday.
Aldi’s legal team argued that the company’s undertaking not to sell refrigerated liquor, and to only stock a small number of product lines, would be sufficient to overcome localised concerns.
Direct link between liquor and violence
In her written submission, Sen Cons Hedley said there were five existing packaged liquor licences located within a short walking distance of Aldi, as well as three hotels and two registered clubs in close proximity – all offering packaged liquor.
Police had found a direct link between the reported incidents of alcohol-related violence, offensive language and public urination and the consumption of liquor purchased from packaged liquor licensees in the Taree CBD, she said.
“The sale of non-refrigerated alcohol may not necessarily prevent immediate consumption, particularly when the persons responsible for the street drinking and anti-social behaviour in the Taree CBD frequently consume warm cask wine and beer after gathering for several hours in the identified hot spots.”
She said the addition of another discount liquor offering in Taree would clearly result in more competitive pricing of alcohol, and Aldi’s proposal to stock a smaller range of products would be of no positive consequence.
“Customers, particularly the vulnerable and disadvantaged will have access to greater quantities of alcohol (including bulk buying),” she said in the submission.
Authority chairperson Chris Sidoti said he accepted the argument by police and other objectors that “it was more likely than not that there will be negative impacts upon the local community” if the liquor licence was approved.
Aldi requested a statement of reasons why ILGA rejected its application.
In releasing its statement of reasons, ILGA revealed the extent of police opposition to the proposal.
If the application were to be granted, it said, “the vulnerable and disadvantaged will have greater access to higher volumes of alcohol, inevitably leading to increased consumption and further abuse.
“Police identify noise complaints, malicious damage, anti-social behaviour and large scale public disorder incidents as matters arising from the abuse of alcohol that are quite obvious to police and the community.
“Police advise that 2010 review of COPS reports for 2009 indicated the Manning-Great Lakes Police Command recorded the highest rate of ‘out of control’ private parties requiring police involvement than any other police command in the State apart from the Mount Druitt command.
“Police further submit that apart from the obvious impacts of alcohol abuse, there are adverse impacts upon the community that are not as overt – including mental illness, chronic alcoholism, domestic violence, increased demands upon health care and neglect of family members, particularly children.
“Police submit that managing alcohol abuse at the local level requires intervention from a number of agencies, including increased policing of hot spots, changes to legislation requiring mandatory action for certain domestic violence matters, the incarceration of repeat offenders and support programs established by health agencies and local indigenous groups to combat the consequences of alcohol abuse.”
It noted that Taree has seen an increase in intervention by the local courts in the form of alcohol abstinence measures imposed as a bond or bail condition and prohibitions on repeat offenders attending licensed premises where alcohol has been the major contributing factor.
Significant impact on indigenous
On the specific impact of alcohol use upon the indigenous community, police submitted that despite their own and community efforts, the data also reveals indigenous persons (who are most at risk of alcohol related harms) are over-represented in alcohol-related assaults and total alcohol-related incident categories in the area.
“Of particular concern is the number of indigenous juveniles involved compared to non-indigenous juveniles, based on their respective populations.”
The authority heard of the Greater Taree City Council-funded ‘Street Beat Bus’ which collects juveniles from the streets on a Friday and Saturday night and conveys them to Taree PCYC “as a diversion to street drinking and miscreant behaviour”.
“Notwithstanding these efforts, juveniles continue to consume alcohol while roaming the streets and vicinity of licensed premises. The hot spots are primarily in the Taree CBD, riverbank (Queen Elizabeth Park), skate park (Johnny Martin Oval) in Macquarie Street Taree and the Taree suburb housing commission areas. Presumably, these juveniles are obtaining alcohol as a result of the secondary supply of packaged liquor,” its summary said.
“Increased access to discounted alcohol may well challenge existing intervention processes and overturn some positive results seen over the years.
“Moreover, intervention and prevention of alcohol abuse in residential/private premises remains the most difficult of challenges faced by police and the community.
“Statistics for the Greater Taree area reveal a greater proportion of alcohol related incidents are occurring in residential premises and outdoor/public places, and more people are reported in police data as having their last drink in the home/private residence.”
The authority noted its satisfaction of Sen Cons Hedley’s “considerable knowledge relating to local crime and licensing issues”, having served as a police officer for 19 years, 10 of which have been in the capacity of licensing coordinator of the local area command.