Over the past decade, there has been massive growth in the number of bottle shops next to Australian supermarkets.
However, in Western Australia, two recent decisions of the Liquor Commission have attempted to rein in this trend by casting doubt on the value of ‘one-stop shopping’.
The term ‘one-stop shopping’ refers to the ability to conveniently buy everyday groceries and alcohol in a single outing – often under the one roof in a shopping centre. This features heavily in liquor licence applications made by major supermarket retailers.
This trend is likely the unintended, but not wholly unexpected, result of the ‘red-tape cutting’ reforms to the Liquor Control Act 1988 (WA) in 2007.
Previously, applicants for a licence to sell packaged alcohol had to satisfy the authority that reasonable consumer demands were not otherwise being met.
Yet when the legislation was updated in 2007, this more onerous test was replaced with a ‘public interest test’, which balances various considerations and invites more discretion.
Take the case of Woolworths v Director of Liquor Licensing  WASCA 227 , where the Court of Appeal determined that the Commission had, “overlooked the notorious fact that, in contemporary Australian life, one-stop shopping in large suburban shopping centres is of great importance, especially to working people, and that this social fact is reflected in the development of district and regional shopping centres”.
While acknowledging that one-stop shopping offers convenience to consumers, the Commission has emphasised that this may not be sufficient to satisfy the public interest test.
In some cases, the negative impact of increasing the availability of alcohol in a certain locality may outweigh the marginal benefits of an increased level of convenience to some members of the community. For instance, Woolworths Ltd v Director of Liquor Licensing LC 23/2016 .
In its application to open a BWS in Northam, a town in the Wheatbelt, Woolworths argued that Northam was disadvantaged because it did not have the benefit of one-stop shopping (Woolworths v Executive Director of Public Health & Ors LC 02/2017 ).
However, in its decision the Commission concluded that, “the benefits of one-stop shopping and an increase in the availability of liquor products are outweighed by the likelihood of an increase in harm and ill-health due to the use of liquor”.
These decisions highlight broader concerns about the application of the public interest test and the proliferation of bottle shops in Western Australia.
The Commission has observed that, “a liquor outlet at every corner delicatessen or beside every supermarket or regularly visited retail outlet to satisfy the convenience of some members of the public is not what the community would countenance or expect, and would not be, in the Commission’s view, in accordance with the provisions and the intent of the Act” (Liquorland (Australia) Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Police & Others LC 18/2015). I could not agree more.
These latest decisions have been made against a backdrop of growing concern about the availability of alcohol in Australia.
There is strong evidence that packaged alcohol outlet density is positively associated with increased rates of assault, domestic violence, chronic disease, and very heavy episodic drinking.
Further, there is evidence that shows socially disadvantaged populations are exposed to greater concentrations of packaged liquor stores and to lower priced alcohol in these outlets.
Liquor licensing and legislation plays an important role in reducing alcohol-related harm.
The Western Australian Liquor Commission has raised the bar for supermarket-owned alcohol chains.
It is hoped that the health and safety of relatively disadvantaged communities will, rightly, continue to be prioritised ahead of the convenience of one-stop shopping.