By Ian Neubauer
A deal struck between the Federal Government and cross bench senators to pass the RTD tax hike bill will provide a fraction of the health funding promised by distillers if the bill is defeated.
The Green Party and independent Senator Nick Xenophon yesterday (Mar 17) made an 11th hour deal with the Federal Government that will see it spend $50 million out of a projected $1.6 billion in revenue collected from the tax hike over the next four years on initiatives to tackle binge drinking.
Distilled Spirits Council of Australia (DSICA) spokesperson Steve Riden said the $50 million represented 3 per cent of the monies collected by the tax hike.
He also said it was markedly less than the $290 million refund distillers will be entitled to if the bill is defeated and which they have earmarked for distribution to health and education agencies.
“$290 million is more than five times what the government is spending on its national binge drinking strategy and almost six times the $50 million the Greens and Xenophon managed to get out of them,” Riden said.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert concurred in a statement issued on Monday — the day before the deal had been struck. “The Government is spending very little of this revenue on measures that will really make a difference,” she said.
But the Greens changed their tune yesterday, with party leader Senator Bob Brown describing the deal as a “major breakthrough in confronting the abuse of alcohol”.
Contacted by TheShout today (Mar 16), a spokesperson for Senator Siewert admitted the $50 million was “a drop in the ocean” but added it represented the best possibly outcome for health and alcohol education.
“The argument that if the bill fails, the full around will be given back to [health and eduction] groups is false,” he said. “The Government has not yet explained what will happened to the funds in that case.
“This deal ensures that at least $50 million goes to specific programs to tackle binge drinking — whereas before only a proportion was allocated to these measures,” he said.
Parliament is expected to vote on the RTD tax hike bill later today. It is expected to be defeated without the support of independent Senator Steve Fielding, who is calling for the outright decoupling of alcohol advertising and sport.
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