Broome Sobering Up Centre in limbo despite Government claim no avenue left to stop alcohol-fuelled crime

Cain AndrewsBroome Advertiser
Walangari Broome Sober Up Centre.
Camera IconWalangari Broome Sober Up Centre. Credit: Cain Andrews/Broome Advertiser/Broome Advertiser

Despite Mark McGowan claiming the State Government has done everything in its power to tackle the crime crisis in the Kimberley, a vital drug and alcohol service in Broome is still shut after more than a year.

On February 9 Mr McGowan responded to critiques of his Government’s response to the ongoing crime crisis across WA’s North West, shifting the burden of responsibility back to parents of delinquent adolescents, insisting police and government agencies were “doing their bit”.

“. . .it annoys me,” he said.

“I constantly get the finger pointed at our public servants or our community development officers or our police officers who are doing their bit.

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“Parents need to parent. The State is not a parent.

“The idea that’s only ever the State’s responsibility self-perpetuates the problem”.

But despite the Premier’s claims the Government has no avenues left to tackle the crime wave, the first port of call for people in Broome struggling with alcohol addiction, has been scaled back with no reopening date.

Currently, a stop-gap sobering-up centre has been established near Milliya Rumurra Rehabilitation Centre, a 10-minute drive out of town, which has had to run at a reduced capacity, from 26 to 12, because of a lack of bed space.

When asked by the Advertiser in June 2022, Mental Health Commission deputy commissioner Lindsay Hale said the commission recognised the service was vital in keeping people safe.

Despite the admission, a State Government spokesperson said work was continuing to identify land and property options for a long-term sobering-up centre.

When that work would be completed was not provided.

And while the Government has announced new legislation to strengthen the banned drinkers register in an effort to tackle the ongoing alcohol-fuelled crime wave ravaging North West communities, Milliya Rumurra Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Andrew Amor said bans were only part of the solution.

“Bans are short-term solutions to systemic, long-term problems,” he said.

“The only way to address the problem properly is to do other things, besides or complementary to the bans.

“The issue is, if you want to drink or take drugs, you will do it despite the bans and that’s why we need to be looking at this differently.

“We definitely don’t want people turning to methylated spirits as a cheap way of getting drunk because it is quite dangerous.”

With an increase in demand for the service, Mr Amor said he hoped the search for a new facility will be expedited.

“It was always meant to be a short-term interim solution. I just hope that it remains short-term and it doesn’t blow out beyond three years.”

He said the facility’s location was also a major barrier for people accessing the service.

“A lot of people initially didn’t want to come so far out of town, that was their main issue,” he said.

“Before the SUC was moved out of town 80 per cent of clients walked in off the street but with the centre now out of town it makes it near impossible for that to happen.

“If the new facility is closer to the town where people can walk, it means there will be fewer people on the street at night.”

Despite the problems with youth crime and substance abuse, currently, there is no facility similar to a sobering-up facility in or around Broome for underage people, according to Mr Amor.

“There is a need to do more for young people who are intoxicated and particularly with the change in the availability of drugs like with methamphetamines,” he said.

“Sometimes we let underage people stay here with family members but obviously there are issues around having intoxicated young people in a dorm room with older intoxicated people.”

Shire of Broome president Harold Tracey said the Shire had done everything in its power to keep the previous centre open, pointing the finger at the State Government.

“While the Shire recognises the importance of the facility and is frustrated by its closure, it is not the core function of a local government to provide health services — this is a State Government responsibility,” he said.

Recently, Mr Tracey said the MHC had been in contact late last year about specific properties in town which could be suitable but was unaware if the MHC had moved forward on any of the properties.

“The Shire does not have a position on a preferred location,” he said.

“However, it is imperative that the service is more accessible and with additional capacity, or at least the same capacity prior to the relocation.

“And while we believe a SUC does not solely address long-term social issues associated with alcohol consumption, such centres clearly help reduce public antisocial behaviour and hospital presentations.”

Mr Tracey said the Shire believed the MHC had been “complacent” when it came to finding a new location for the sobering-up centre.

“While we believe that the MHC should have had an option in town prior to the close of the Hamersley Street property, we are working proactively and collaboratively to ensure a replacement facility is available as soon as possible,” he said.

It comes despite the Government pumping millions of dollars into Operation Regional Shield to tackle the alcohol-driven crime crisis, which the WA Police Union labelled as “unsustainable” late last year.

“Extending Operation Regional Shield does not solve these issues. There must be a multi-agency approach to develop a long-term solution for these regional areas,” the Police Union said in a motion at their annual conference.

Former WA Police Union president Mick Kelly said at the time policing was only part of the solution.

“You’ve got a lot of youth that are walking around at night. Mix in a little bit of alcohol or substance abuse and that’s when they start committing offences,” he said.

“There need to be other government agencies working with the WA Police. Locking people up is not always the right solution.”

Mr Amor said there hasn’t been an adequate government response to increased youth substance abuse.

“We hear from police and we see the statistics. It’s increasing and it’s not getting any better,” he said.

“(The Government) should be supporting community services like ours to try and reduce the harm and the demand young people have for alcohol and drugs.”

This was backed by a MHC report which found there was a significant gap in AOD services for children under the age of 15 in the Kimberley.

The report, which was published in August 2021 before the closure of Broome SUC also identified a lack of reliable and “easily accessible” detox and withdrawal services in regional WA.

The MHC report also highlighted the growing concern surrounding adolescent substance abuse in the Kimberley and found regional Community Alcohol and Drug Services, like Milliya Rumurra, play a “critical role” as the first line of response to increasing AOD issues in regional communities.

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