By Ian Neubauer
The RTD tax hike bill looks likely to be defeated when the Senate finally votes on it next month after Family First Senator Steve Fielding all but withdrew his support for the bill.
Fielding announced his support for the bill in October last year when macroeconomic problems began to surface to safeguard the superannuation funds of his constituents.
But he held he was against linking health policy to tax and urged the Rudd Government to take concrete steps to curb binge drinking.
However, ongoing reports that show the tax hike is actually promoting binge drinking as consumers substitute RTDs for cheaper beverages with higher ABVs made the maverick senator backflip this week.
“Last year I indicated that I would support this tax because the economic crisis was starting to bite and I wanted to help shore up our economy,” News Ltd reported Fielding as saying. “But I can’t be blind to what this tax is failing to do.
“I cannot give this Government an open-ended ‘yes’ to this tax when our society is grappling with the problem of binge drinking and the Government turns its back.”
The Senator has indicated he will only support the bill on condition that the Government discard the tax hike in six months if it fails to address binge drinking.
The condition harks back to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s promise last March to spend $53 million tackling binge drinking by means of a grim reaper-style scare campaign and stronger funding for community sporting groups. Neither of these initiatives ever saw the light of day.
Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia (DSICA) Stephen Riden said it was time to put the RTD tax to bed.
“Australians know the RTD tax hike is a failure. The time has come for the Senate to vote it down and put this tax out of its misery,” he said. “Only when the Government is forced to look at balanced solutions will we see the problem of binge drinking in our community addressed.”
But Australian Drug Foundation national policy manager, Geoff Munro, said the Senate should nevertheless pass the bill.
“The Senate should pass the [RTD] excise bill,” he said. “The Senate’s acceptance of the bill will send a signal to parents that it is time to take control of young people’s drinking and to wind it back.
“The bill will not eliminate underage drinking, but it will be a sign that the Parliament is beginning to take the problem seriously.”
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