By Ian Neubauer
Leading distillers have announced they will donate refunds they are entitled to following the defeat of the RTD tax hike bill to Drinkwise Australia and other health and education funds.
Distillers that have so far agreed to pass on the refund include Bacardi Lion, Brown-Forman, Jim Beam Brands, Bundaberg Distilling Company, Diageo, Foster’s Group, Maxxium and Suntory, with combined contributions estimated at $200 million.
The figure is four times greater than the hypothetical $50 million commitment wrangled out of the Rudd Government by the Greens and independent Senator Nick Xenophon for their support of the RTD tax hike bill.
Foster’s will also contribute a percentage of its $20 million refund to ‘Rethinking Drinking’, a national schools-based alcohol education program, and its own ‘Enjoy Responsibility’ education and awareness initiatives.
Foster’s CEO Ian Johnston said that as the tax was imposed on consumers to reduce alcohol-related harm, it’s only fair that monies collected by it go directly to community assistance and education.
“As a company and as a broader community, we need to increase our efforts toward addressing the harmful aspects of our drinking culture,” he said. “We have consistently maintained that there are no ‘bad drinks’ only harmful drinking behaviours.”
Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia (DSICA) chairman, Michael McShane, whose members unanimously agreed to hand over their refunds months ago, said it was serious about trialling new approaches to tackling problem drinking and would begin by pledging new responsible consumption labels.
“The debate surrounding the failed RTD tax has made us even more determined as an industry to work harder with the government and health groups to bring about genuine and comprehensive solutions to binge-drinking,” he said.
“The initiatives announced today are the first tranche in what we see as an ongoing opportunity to bring about real changes in the way alcohol abuse is tackled in this country.”
But Lees Hotel proprietor, Mark Doyle, said the money should be refunded to the consumers who paid for the tax hike.
“Ultimately the RTD tax should be refunded to the customers who suffered the price increase, not just the distillers as the distillers only passed it on,” he said.
“Now that would make it interesting for the Government — who hasn’t drunk an RTD in the last 12 months?”
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