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Competition policy fuels liquor row

WA PETROL station owners say rules preventing them from selling liquor are at odds with the National Competition Policy.

If the WA Government is found to have breached the National Compet-ition Policy it can lose a portion of its National Competition grants. The grants were worth $100 million this financial year.

Petrol station owners, through their national body Convenience Stores Australasia, are asking to carry a limited selection beer, wine and spirits.

However, Section 74 of the Liquor Licencing Act contains two clauses that can be used to prevent them selling liquor.

In addition, the WA Government is drafting legislation that will prohibit petrol stations from selling alcohol.

Convenience Stores Australasia executive director Barry Anderson said the decision to prohibit liquor sales from convenience stores was anti-competitive.

“Section 74 of the Liquor Licenc-ing Act says the granting of a licence must be in the common good and the applicant has to prove need,” he said.

“Having to prove need is by definition anti-competitive. It inhibits new retailers and competitors.

“I can’t see the difference between a drive-in liquor store and a drive-in convenience store.”

A spokesman for Racing and Gaming Minister Max Evans said until the draft legislation was completed, it was impossible to say whether it would impact on the National Competition Policy.

“The competition policy is not an absolute. Governments are not bound to it,” the spokesman said. “They have to assess whether something is for community good.”

Many petrol station owners turned to convenience retail to make up for falling margins from petrol sales.

Now their main competitors, big supermarket chains such as Wool-worths, are adding petrol to their retail mix. Some eastern states supermarkets are already allowed to stock alcohol and that could soon happen in WA.

If petrol stations are not allowed to stock alcohol, some may soon consider giving their service bays over to liquor retailers.

The Shell station in Mt Lawley has attached a Pizza Hut franchise. The Ampol in Kalgoorlie is adding a Subway store. A liquor store is attached to the Caltex station in Oakford.

Mr Anderson said his organisation was happy to debate the social impact of petrol stations selling alcohol, discussion of which tends to focus on driving under the influence and underage drinking.

“We’ve taken a strong stand on the responsibility of selling alcohol.”

Mr Anderson equated the selling of alcohol to selling cigarettes.

“We don’t have convictions in any state for selling tobacco,” he said. “Up to the point of sale, alcohol is no different to any other product.

“Employees dealing with the sale of alcohol should have professional training and penalties for sale to minors should be more severe.”

Mr Anderson said the fact most convenience stores were open 24 hours would not impact.

“When the liquor selling hours are over the alcohol sections would be closed off,” he said.

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