07th May 2014


ALSWA dismayed at apathetic response to Coolgardie racism incident

07 May 2014

When the licensee of Coolgardie’s Denver City Hotel displayed a sign saying that service would be refused to Indigenous people, the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA) acted immediately.

“We were greatly concerned at the racist overtones of the sign and the offence that this would cause to many people. We took the appropriate course of action in condemning this conduct. It is now extremely disappointing that Malcolm Cullen, Shire of Coolgardie President has misled the public with comments he has made in relation to this incident and ALSWA’s correspondence to the Shire” said ALSWA CEO Dennis Eggington.

After Denver City Hotel licensee Deborah Ovens wrote the sign and displayed it at the Hotel and refused to serve Aboriginal customers in March 2014, ALSWA corresponded with the Local Government (Shire of Coolgardie), WA Police and the Director of Liquor Licensing requesting them to lodge a complaint against the licensee with the Liquor Commission which could then take disciplinary action against the licensee for her conduct, if the Liquor Commission considered that this was warranted.

This correspondence was included in the Shire’s 29th April 2014 Meeting Agenda (www.coolgardie.wa.gov.au). These are the only three bodies that have the standing to lodge a complaint against a licensee with the Liquor Commission under the Liquor Control Act. ALSWA does not have this power. At no time has ALSWA requested the assistance or support from the Shire (or any other body) to bring proceedings under the Racial Discrimination Act.

“The Shire’s discussion at this meeting regarding our correspondence demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about the nature of this incident. It is appalling and unclear to ALSWA why the Shire has discussed ‘criminal damage…’ and other related issues in relation to ALSWA’s request. Is the Shire really suggesting that the conduct of the licensee was understandable or acceptable because there has allegedly been criminal behaviour in the town of Coolgardie in the past 12 months?” said Mr. Eggington.

Mr. Cullen also stated that he is “not too sure that the ALSWA have a lot of support from the supposed community members that they say they do”. “This is incorrect” said Mr. Eggington, “ALSWA has a number of clients from the community pursuing action against the Hotel and Deborah Ovens”.

“Mr. Cullen’s comment that “legal action is unnecessary as the publican has apologised for her actions” is ridiculous” said Mr. Eggington, “if a person commits a serious breach of a law that is designed to protect vulnerable people, the person should be dealt with under the law and not be allowed to simply apologise and get away with it”. “I am sure that if a Shire worker was assaulted an apology from the offender would not be sufficient in the eyes of the Shire to end the matter”.

ALSWA is further disappointed that the Director of Liquor Licensing is also not willing to lodge a complaint with the Liquor Commission about this incident at this time.

“There is a distinct lack of wanting to deal with this matter seriously or effectively and this sends a poor message tothe community that racism is tolerated.We are disappointed that even with an incident of direct andtargeted racism like this which was nationally reported, those bodies with the power to take action against the licensee have refused to do” said Mr. Eggington.

Supporting information for ALSWA (Coolgardie) Media Statement 7 May 2014

ALSWA does not need the support of the community or Shire to assist clients to make complaints to the AHRC in this matter or any matter involving racial discrimination and hatred against Aboriginal people.

At no time has ALSWA asked the Shire of Coolgardie (or WA Police or the Director of Liquor Licensing) for ‘support from the shire to lodge an objection under the Racial Discrimination Act’ as claimed by Malcolm Cullen. Furthermore, ALSWA has not had any contact with the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) and never sought its support as claimed by Mr Cullen. Mr Cullen’s comments to the ABC are incorrect and misleading.

The AHA is an industry body which represents hotels, taverns and club liquor licensees. It has no standing to make a complaint under the Liquor Control Act 1988 (WA) to the Liquor Commission. As such, there is no reason for ALSWA to be in touch with the AHA.

  • Under the Liquor Control Act the following parties have standing to lodge a complaint against a licensee with the Liquor Commission, asking the Liquor Commission take disciplinary action against a licensee when the licensee has done something wrong:

oLocal government

oWA Police

oThe Director of Liquor Licensing.

  • ALSWA does not have the power or standing to lodge a complaint against a licensee with the Liquor Commission.

  • Following the incident where the licensee/Deborah Ovens wrote the sign and placed it up in the Denver City Hotel, ALSWA wrote to each of the above parties requesting they make a complaint to the Liquor Commission, as they are empowered to do, on one of the following grounds, which are set out in section 95 of the Liquor Control Act:

oThe licensee had become an unsuitable person to hold a licence under the Act.

oThe licence had not been exercised in the public interest.

oThe welfare of persons who resort to the licensed premises was endangered by an act of the licensee.

  • ALSWA submitted to these parties that the licensee had breached each of the above grounds in relation to the putting up of the sign and the refusal of service of Aboriginal people and invited the parties individually to lodge a complaint with the Liquor Commission which would then be able to take disciplinary action against the licensee.

  • The Director of Liquor Licensing, the Shire of Coolgardie and the Detective Superintendent of the WA Police Licensing Enforcement Division have each responded to our request that they exercise their powers and lodge a complaint against the licensee (Deborah Ovens) with the Liquor Commission. Each has declined to do so.

  • The Shire of Coolgardie’s response as set out in their Agenda (Agenda Reference 11.1.4) is that the matter caused ‘modest disruption in the community’, that ‘careful consideration should be given to the recent history of the townsite, and the level of criminal damage andbehaviour the Coolgardie Townsite has been subject to…’ with a discussion about damage to Council assets and train carriages. It is also felt that the pursuit of this matter would cause ‘friction with the wider community’.

  • The Director General of the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquorresponded to ALSWA stating that the Director hasdetermined ‘not to lodge a s 95 complaint…’ due to limited resources beingavailable to the Director who does not have an office in Kalgoorlie-Boulder. The Director stated that it ordinarily relies on WA Police to carry out investigations into allegations like those made by ALSWA and forthe Commissioner of Police to initiate s 95 proceedings against a licensee. In the event that proceedings arebrought in this matter against the licensee following a proper investigation by WA Police, the Director will consider whether a S 95 complaint is justified.

  • This process has nothing to do with a complaint being made under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) to the Australia Human Rights Commission or the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) to the Equal Opportunity Commission.

  • The licensee, Deborah Ovens, has made admissions in print media and on radio to putting up the sign and refusing to serve alcohol to Aboriginal people in the Denver City Hotel. In addition to this, ALSWA has three clients who can individually attest to seeing the sign displayed in the Hotel and being refused service. One of these clients has a photograph of the sign up in the Hotel. Each are willing to provide a statement to any of the above bodies should they require further evidence of the licensee’s breaches of the Racial Discrimination Act.

No report or finding will be made in this matter by the EOC (or the AHRC). To ALSWA’s knowledge, no complaint has been made to the EOC regarding thisincident. For various reasons, ALSWA’s clients have lodged their complaints withthe AHRC. Complaints may only be lodged and pursued in one jurisdiction – the AHRC or the EOC.