Govt considers tougher alcohol laws for Coober Pedy

Premier Peter Malinauskas has told Coober Pedy council that the state government is considering tougher alcohol restrictions and a broader health response to tackle concerns about “antisocial behaviour” in the outback town.

Feb 06, 2023, updated Feb 06, 2023
Coober Pedy. Photo: Stephanie Richards/InDaily

Coober Pedy. Photo: Stephanie Richards/InDaily

The District Council of Coober Pedy raised the issue of excessive alcohol consumption in a letter to the Premier last June.

It called on the state government to implement eight changes – including increased police resourcing for dry zones and greater public surveillance – to address an “unacceptable level of antisocial behaviour in Coober Pedy”.

The move came after the council resolved in February 2022 to express its “significant disappointment” with the state government for a “lack of progress… addressing anti-social behaviour in public areas in Coober Pedy”.

Former council administrator Tim Jackson, who left the role on Thursday after four years overseeing the suspended body, told the Premier the problem was particularly acute on Coober Pedy’s main road, Hutchison Street.

“The Council, along with many of its citizens, continue to be extremely concerned about antisocial behaviour in the town caused by excessive alcohol and drug use,” Jackson wrote to the Premier in June 2022.

“This is particularly the case in Hutchison Street.

“The Council has resolved to express its significant disappointment to the Premier at the lack of progress made by the state government in addressing this anti-social behaviour and further it has called on the state government to address the problem immediately by adequately resourcing the solution.”

Jackson asked the state government to enact eight changes to “meet the expectations” of Coober Pedy citizens.

Among Jackson’s suggestions were to:

  • establish a “lead person or state government agency to coordinate the response”,
  • “review and enforce” alcohol purchase limits and opening hours,
  • fund a public surveillance system on Hutchison Street, and
  • resource “adequate policing” of Coober Pedy’s dry zone.

Malinauskas wrote to Jackson last month to tell him that SA Police, the Department for Human Services, Consumer and Business Services, and the Department for Health are reviewing Coober Pedy’s Alcohol Management Plan.

“I am advised the alcohol restrictions in Coober Pedy have been reviewed recently and that they are amongst the most stringent in the state with the exception of opening hours,” Malinauskas wrote on January 19.

“I am further advised that the option of later opening hours may be explored in Coober Pedy.

“However, given alcohol addiction is a health issue, later opening hours need to be complemented by a health and help service response to engage with people during that time in the morning where people are less intoxicated.

“This matter is under active consideration through the review of the alcohol management plan.

“While early reports indicating some improvements in behaviour in the town are encouraging, there is still work to be done to ensure sustainable and long-term improvements in public safety in Coober Pedy.”

Under restrictions introduced on September 12, 2022, residents of Coober Pedy need identification to purchase alcohol and all liquor transactions are recorded on ID Scan, a new state government app that records a customer’s purchase history for 24 hours and alerts licensees if a customer has exceeded their daily purchase limit.

The sale of cask wine is prohibited in Coober Pedy, and only two bottles of wine are allowed per purchase.

Residents are also limited to one bottle of spirits or one bottle of port/fortified wine or one multipack of pre-mix spirits per purchase.

Beer purchases are limited to two multipacks. The sales restrictions do not apply to managers of companies operating mining ventures or station properties.

Coober Pedy bottle shops are also allowed to open at 10am, which is earlier than Port Augusta where opening hours are restricted to past 11am.

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Malinauskas said Jackson’s proposal for a lead person coordinating the Coober Pedy alcohol response was “a good idea, but the Government would appreciate the chance to discuss how the role, or roles if necessary, would work in practice”.

He also indicated he was satisfied with the policing of Coober Pedy’s dry zone.

“I am advised that in policing the dry zone, SAPOL maintains a regular and highly visible uniformed presence in Hutchinson Street and proactively monitors all dry zones within Coober Pedy,” the Premier wrote.

“SAPOL members based at Coober Pedy actively enforce compliance of the dry zone through the issuing of expiation notices for consumption or the possession of liquor, and the liquor is then decanted or seized.

“Offences against good order or anti-social behaviour that occur in and around the dry zone result in appropriate police action via arrest, report or removal to prevent further breaches of the peace.”

He also said Coober Pedy had received funding of $90,100 to install and upgrade CCTV cameras in the town’s main district.

It comes as the state government continues its search for a new permanent administrator to take the reins of the District Council of Coober Pedy, which has been suspended as an elected body since January 2019 due to serious debt and governance issues.

Retired local government consultant Colin Davies was appointed interim administrator last week after the state government could not find someone to take on the role permanently – despite advertising for the position since October.

In an open letter to Coober Pedy residents last week, Local Government Minister Geoff Brock said he was disappointed he was not able to announce a permanent successor to Jackson.

“I was sincerely hoping I would be able to advise who Council’s long-term Administrator will be,” Brock wrote on February 2.

“However, the thorough and public process that has been run since the extension to the Council’s administration by Parliament late last year has proven to be time-consuming.

“I am aware that you are all keenly interested to know who the Administrator will be and anticipate that this announcement will occur soon.

“In the meantime, you can have confidence that your Council will be in safe hands. Colin is an experienced local government manager and Chief Executive Officer, most recently at The Flinders Ranges Council.”

Coober Pedy District Council still faces debts of around $10m to various creditors including the Local Government Financing Authority and energy company EDL.

The council last year had its suspension as an elected body extended until 2026.

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