Easy access to cheap alcohol is linked to a range of related harms including violence, but planning policies and liquor industry regulations aren't built to address the issue. Across the state, local planning officers are working towards change.
The complex causes behind family violence are under scrutiny, now more than ever as recommendations from the recent Royal Commission into Family Violence start to feed into new reforms. Among them is the question of how easy access to cheap alcohol relates to levels of local violence.
In particular, attention is focussed on the rapid rise of chain-store liquor outlets: an increase in the area of 50 per cent over the past 15 years, outstripping population growth. Victorian research conducted in 2011 found that a 10 per cent increase in off-licence liquor outlets can be associated with a 3.3 per cent increase in domestic violence. And a 2014 report from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education cited chain-store alcohol outlets as contributing "most significantly to trauma risk, with each additional chain outlet associated with a 35.3 per cent increase in intentional injuries [such as assaults] and a 22 per cent increase in unintentional injuries [such as falls]".
A 10 per cent increase in off-licence liquor outlets is associated with a 3.3 per cent increase in domestic violence.
Planning officers' limited powers
Maya Rivis, principal program officer alcohol and tobacco at VicHealth, says: "The social harm that comes from alcohol needs to be considered both at the planning and liquor licensing stages, but currently it is not given enough weight in the decision-making process."
And that's because social impacts are not part of the criteria on which proposals for new off-license liquor outlets are judged. The regulatory system that currently oversees these decisions simply is not built that way.
Researchers at LaTrobe University are currently investigating the use of the planning system to reduce alcohol-related harm. "Planning law is often about the direct impacts on the land around the premises, but with packaged alcohol the effect could be happening kilometres away," concedes research officer Claire Wilkinson.
Planning law is often about the direct impacts on the land around the premises, but with packaged alcohol the effect could be happening kilometres away.