By Deborah Jackson, editor National Liquor News

The retail liquor industry has blasted the ACT Government, saying a further 25 per cent increase to already high licence fees is a “blatant cash grab” and “unacceptable”.

This is the formal response to proposed huge hikes from the Australian Liquor Stores Association (ALSA) in its submission to the Government’s ‘Building on Liquor Reform: White Paper’.

To put it into perspective, the ACT already has the highest licence fees for retail liquor outlets of any Australian state or territory. In 2010, the standard licence fee for a retail liquor outlet in the ACT was $3055. If the current ACT Government proposal proceeds, this fee will rise to as much as $24,498, which is an increase of over 800 per cent in six years. 

Adrien Murphy, owner of Jim Murphy Airport Cellars in the ACT, told TheShout the increase is “madness” and “doesn’t make any sense”.

Murphy, who currently pays $20,000 annually in licencing fees, stands to have that increased to $25,000 if the proposed increase passes. Meanwhile, stores in neighbouring NSW can obtain a licence for $510.

The Government’s reasoning behind the proposed hike is that it’s not a tax, but a ‘pre-loading payment’. Meanwhile, that 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 pre-loading happening in this bar,” said Murphy.

“It doesn't make any sense, I just can't make any sense out of this judgment. It is madness,” he said. 

According to the ALSA submission, if the increase goes ahead, there will be significant negative consequences for small businesses, including reduced customer service, and the vibrancy of Canberra as a destination for domestic and international tourists.

Murphy agreed, telling TheShout: “The money has got to come from somewhere. The thing is that we can't afford to bump up our prices, we would become uncompetitive which would mean people wouldn't continue to shop with us, the only other thing you could do is get rid of staff. So there are jobs on the line, and the only other thing we could do, is we would not be able to continue spending the money supporting local charities like we do. We've got to either do one of two things to save money and that would be to cut back on a full-timer or a casual or stop donating to the charities that we donate to as often as we do.”

He went on to say: “It's just going to make it harder for ACT businesses to compete, especially when online is growing at such a large rate. Whereas people who can have a NSW or Victorian licence don't pay anywhere near our fees but can still send alcohol into the ACT area without having to pay or subsidise any of their licence fees. What they're saying is that I've got to pay for the person who is drinking at home and then goes out into town, but I can be an ACT resident and buy from any online retailer outside of the ACT and do exactly the same thing but they don't have to wear any of the price.”

The Shout Team

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

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