By Ian Neubauer
The RTD tax hike was defeated in Parliament yesterday (Mar 18) after Family First Senator Steve Fielding sided with the Opposition to reject the bill.
Fielding had demanded the government ban alcohol advertising during the broadcast of sports events prior to 8:30pm within three years in exchange for his voting for the bill – a demand the Federal Government never took seriosuly.
The bill was defeated 32-31, with Labor, the Greens and independent Senator Nick Xenophon supporting it following an 11th hour deal that would have seen mandatory health warnings for alcohol containers and advertising.
The excise on RTDs will now revert to the rate that was in effect before the tax hike went into effect in April last year, with prices expected to fall up to $1.30 per bottle.
Shadow Health Minister Peter Dutton said the result sent a clear message to government that the RTD tax hike was nothing but a tax grab.
“The Coalition has maintained all along that this was a tax grab by the Rudd Government – dressed up as a health measure – and last night the Senate said exactly that,” he said.
“Not one witness appearing before last week’s Senate inquiry was able to point to any evidence that the increased tax on RTDs had achieved a reduction in teenage binge drinking.”
The Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia (DSICA), which waged a costly and taxing public relations exercise to have the bill overturned, also welcomed the result, adding that stakeholders on both sides should now come together to form an effective, evidence-based solution to binge drinking.
“The senators who made the right decision in rejecting the Government’s tax grab on RTDs realised that a tax was not a solution to problem drinking,” said DSICA spokesperson, Steven Riden.
“The Government should also be recognised for placing harmful and binge drinking on the political agenda and the impetus for change must be embraced by all groups who have participated in the RTD tax debate,” he said.
But Australian Drug Foundation national policy advisor, Geoff Munro, said a rare opportunity to tackle alcohol problems on a structural basis had been lost with the overturning of the bill.
“Underage kids spend over $200 million on alcohol per year and no one disputes that many prefer [RTDs],” he said.
“A permanent tax on the drink most attractive to young people plus health information on labels and restrictions on sponsorships is far preferable to a short term fund of indeterminate size.”
To comment on this story, click here.