By Andy Young

The ACT’s chief minister Andrew Barr has blocked a meeting with the Australian Liquor Stores Association (ALSA), to discuss concerns over the planned 25 per cent increase in retail liquor licence fees.

As previously reported by TheShout, the ACT Government is planning to impose a 25 per cent increase in licence fees, which are already the highest of any state in the country. The Liquor Stores Association of ACT has launched a major campaign against the increase, calling on retailers, suppliers and consumer to get behind the “Say no to higher taxes on your drinks” campaign and sign a petition against the tax rise.

In addition to the campaign, ALSA CEO Terry Mott requested a meeting with the Chief Minister, but in a letter, a copy of which TheShout has managed to obtain, Barr said he did “not consider that a meeting with ALSA is necessary at this time”.

In the letter Barr said: “I appreciate the concerns expressed by the Australian Liquor Stores Association about the proposed increase in annual licensing fees for high volume off-licence liquor retailers.

“The proposal reflects the finding of the independent review of the 2010 changes to the ACT’s liquor licensing regime conducted by ACIL Allen that preloading was a major and persistent issue throughout the ACT, which would ultimately limit the effectiveness of the Liquor Act. The review suggested that the Government could consider revisiting the fee structure to account for the risk presented by preloading, by ensuring that packaged liquor outlets made an appropriate financial contribution to harm-reduction strategies.”

Although the Government has tried to justify the increase as a ‘preloading payment’, Canberra retailer and the owner of ALIA’s Liquor Store of the Year, Adrian Murphy, highlighted that the same Government has said that small bars with less than 80 patrons that close by midnight can have their licence fee cut by 75 per cent.

“The ACT Government is saying at the moment that if you’re drinking at a bar until 12am, with 80 patrons or less, that everyone is going to go home because there is no preloading happening at this bar,” Murphy told TheShout.

In his letter to Mott, Barr said: “I understand that you have been asked by the Attorney-General for views on a variation on the proposal in the White Paper. This alternative option, rather than impose a flat 25 per cent increase in licence fees, would scale increased fees for higher volume liquor retailers with the fee increases being larger for those who purchase larger quantities of liquor.

However in response Mott noted that there was no evidence that simplistically placing higher taxes on all shoppers who buy take away packaged alcohol beverages from a store, be it large or small format store, would target or achieve any outcomes on those individuals that may behave badly after drinking to excess. 

Barr went on to say: “As you have noted, the White Paper also proposes a number of other amendments aimed at reducing harm and cutting unnecessary red tape for the liquor and hospitality industry. I am pleased to hear that your members support many of these proposed reforms.

“Based on the information you have provided, I understand the issues of concern to your association and do not consider that a meeting with ALSA is necessary at this time. As the Attorney-General has leading responsibility for these matter, ALSA should continue to engage with the Attorney-General’s office in relation to its concerns.”

This week ALSA and LSA ACT launched its official campaign against the proposed increases when it released a range of posters and flyers for retailers to use in their stores. The association also launched a petition opposing the increase and again encouraged retailers to engage their consumers in the issue and get them to sign the petition.

Speaking at the launch on Tuesday, the LSA ACT’s executive officer, Michael Waters, said: “Today we kick-off our campaign, with point of sale leaflets and posters, that we would strongly encourage retailers to use in store. We’ve also got a petition and retailers should engage with customers and ask them to read the message, absorb the message and the key talking points.”

More details on the campaign, the leaflets, posters and petition can be found on the LSA ACT website.

The Shout Team

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

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