By James Wells

The ACT Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, has performed what appears to be a backflip by re-defining the status of a high-volume liquor store by increasing the threshold for the definition from $1 million in annual purchases to $3 million.

In a letter to a Canberra liquor retailer obtained by TheShout, the ACT Chief Minister outlines his argument for changing the definition of a high-volume big-discount off-licence liquor store.

"One thing we definitely need to tackle as a city is binge drinking and pre-loading. Our Liquor Act White Paper proposed increasing the licence fee for high-volume, big-discount off-licences. As you may be aware, the White Paper put forward a suggestion to measure high-volume stores as those with turnover higher than $1 million per year,” the Chief Minister said in the letter.

"After consultation with industry, we now think that figure should be set much higher – at $3 million per annum – to make sure we aren’t impacting boutique or small, local stores. The Government is now only looking at licence fees for off-licences with a turnover above $3 million a year, with no change proposed for smaller stores."

In response to the letter, the CEO of the Australian Liquor Stores Association, Terry Mott, said: “While it is pleasing that the ACT Government appears to be responding to the concerns we have been conveying, LSA ACT members do not believe that the change in the threshold is a satisfactory solution and they believe that there should be no increase in licence fees across the board – in fact ACT Liquor Licence Fees should be adjusted back to more realistic levels and in-line with other States and Territories.

“ACT Liquor Licence fees are already 20 times higher than their nearby competitors across the border in neighbouring towns or online operators from other jurisdictions, which is clearly out of all proportion and an unfair and unjustified impost on ACT drinkers, industry staff and operators.

"It is disappointing that there has been an attempt to split the industry into two, by lobbying that there should be different treatment for so-called 'small' and 'large' retailers," Mott said.

"There is no evidence that singles out customers of any LSA member large or small, as having contributed to any perceived problem and it is ludicrous to pretend that only customers who purchase from larger outlets contribute to any harms from alcohol misuse. It is disappointing that a self-serving group has missed the point and the clear community message reported by the Australian Institute for Health & Welfare, that the broader community preference is for governments to enforce targeted measures on those who behave badly and offend, not by simplistic excessive tax hikes indiscriminately applied to everyone – including responsible consumers and licensees alike."

Mott confirmed that the campaign against increases to liquor licensing fees across the board will continue in the lead up to the ACT Election on 15 October.

“We have made further approaches and are continuing to try and talk with Chief Minister Barr and his government colleagues. Over 3000 ACT shoppers have already signed the petition against this blatant tax hike. The ALSA campaign seems to be working and we don't accept that any increase in licence fees or any additional tax hike on drinkers or operators is justifiable."

Last week TheShout reported that the ACT Opposition Leader, Jeremy Hanson, said that he did not support the licence fee increases being put forward by the Terriotory's Government.

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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