A New South Wales suburb is battling to stop a second Woolworths attempt to build an alcohol superstore amid community problems with domestic violence, underage drinking and crime in what experts describe as a pattern of the supermarket giant targeting disadvantaged areas.
In 2015, the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority rejected the Woolworths’ application to build a BWS store at the Lake Haven shopping centre on the NSW central coast, based on its potential negative social impact.
Four years on, Woolworths is seeking approval for a new Dan Murphy’s store at Lake Haven, with more than 650 sq metres of retail space. It’s using the controversial “private certifier” process, which bypasses council and doesn’t require a social impact statement. It has got around usual safeguards by applying to take over the liquor licence of a defunct 8 sq metre drive-through bottleshop. The application has been “provisionally approved” although its bid to expand the site is “under consideration”.
The proposed site is close to the Gorokan high school, a bus interchange, library, a community skate park, the Gravity Youth Centre, mental health service Headspace, Centrelink and public housing. It’s also in an alcohol-free council zone.
Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education chief executive Michael Thorn said Lake Haven is not an isolated case but part of a wider national trend of disadvantaged areas being targeted by Woolworths.
“They’ve been doing this for nearly a decade. They fight to the bitter end using all their financial power to exhaust communities,” Thorn said.
In Darwin, a town beset with alcohol problems, opponents are fighting Woolworths’ bid to build its first Dan Murphy’s store in the Northern Territory, within walking distance of three Indigenous communities – Bagot, Minmarama and Kulaluk.
Last year the Perth community of Maylands, which already had a problem with street drinking and alcohol-related crime, fought off a proposal for a Dan Murphy’s liquor barn.
In 2016, Woolworths won approval to build a Dan Murphy’s store in the “family violence hot spot” at Cranbourne East in Melbourne, sparking calls for a rethink of the Victorian licensing process.
The Central Coast Council has written a submission to the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority which argues establishing a Dan Murphy’s on the Lake Haven site could undo local government efforts to clean up the area and make it more family friendly.
“We’ve done a lot in recent years to lift the tenor of the place, to make it feel a bit safer,” a council insider said.
The submission notes there were major issues with underage public drinking when the previous drive-through bottle shop was in business.
Central Coast Local Health District has also made a submission opposing the proposal.
Back in 2014, the Local Health District warned the authority not to grant approval for the BWS store because it was “likely to contribute to further alcohol-related harm and negative health outcomes for the local community”.
The chief executive, Matt Hanrahan, cited data showing that in the local government area the rate of alcohol-linked hospital admissions were at 360 per 100,000 people, higher than the state average of 319.
Police also objected to the 2014 BWS application and said “the race for liquor sales supremacy should not override public interest”.
“[Lake Haven] area is a hotspot for antisocial behaviour with significant problems with youth in the area, often alcohol-related,” police said in their submission.
“Police submit that incidence of alcohol-related assaults, domestic assaults, theft, malicious damage to property, harassment and threatening behaviour in the Lake Haven area are well above the NSW state average.”
Woolworths argued in its 2014 application its proposed store was in an area of high population growth with strong tourist numbers and it would “cannibalise” sales at existing bottle shops rather than introduce new drinkers to the market. It rejected the concerns of police and health services. There’s already a Coles Liquorland at the Lake Haven shopping centre. A rival liquor licence bid from Aldi at the same shopping centre in 2015 was also scuttled.
The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority’s 2014 BWS rejection decision said it considered there to be a “substantial negative social impact in this case”.
“The authority is not satisfied … that the overall social impact of granting this type of licence to a business located at this particular site will not be detrimental to this local community,” the decision said.
A 2015 study by Michael Livingston from La Trobe University Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, found that in Victoria there was a higher density of packaged liquor outlets in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
“For whatever reason, whether it’s predatory behaviour, whether it’s cheap rents, that’s where bottle shops ended up being concentrated. There are similar studies in the US and similar evidence around fast food,” Livingston said.
“It seems like a broader trend that these kinds of outlets with negative health consequences tend to cluster in areas where there are already health problems.”
Endeavour Drinks spokesman Shane Tremble denied the company deliberately targeted poorer communities.
He said it took its responsibilities as a drinks retailer seriously and implemented many responsible service-of-alcohol measures that went above and beyond regulatory requirements.
“We believe the best way to manage the risk of alcohol-related harm is by rigid adherence to responsible service practices, the training of team members, the range of products sold, and the capacity for retailers to actively engage with the local community on any issues as they arise,” Tremble said.
The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority said it had carried out community consultation and there had been three submissions opposing the store.
The authority said it would also consider issues such as risks of alcohol-related harm and health and community amenity impacts as well as a detailed demographic report, NSW crime and health statistics and Australian Bureau of Statistics socioeconomic data.