By Andy Young

The Senate inquiry into red tape in the alcohol industry has tabled its report, making a number of key recommendations regarding the future of Australia’s alcohol industry.

The inquiry, which is chaired by Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm, heard about the inconsistent and contradictory regulations, which it says are causing death by a thousand cuts to Australia’s liquor industry.

Some of the key recommendations in the report include:

  • Taxing alcohol by content;
  • Allowing packaged alcohol to be sold in convenience stores, petrol stations and supermarkets;
  • Abolishing restrictions on trading hours for liquor stores.

Senator Leyonhjelm told TheShout: “The Liberal Democrats is a small government party and our view is that the productive sector of economy, which is privately owned, shouldn’t be held back by the public sector, unless there is a strong and compelling reason.

“In the case of alcohol, it is a very confusing regulatory environment. We also have vast discrepancies in terms of taxing alcohol depending on what it is in. We can have at one end over $80 per litre in tax and at the other end about $1.70 per litre of alcohol. But alcohol is alcohol, your body does not care how the alcohol arrives, so where is the logic in that? There just isn’t any, it defies logic.

“The calls for volumetric taxing of alcohol have grown louder since the Henry Tax Review, and the Government hasn’t acted on it, which is mostly just political cowardice. We had the Parliamentary Budget Office update its old costings of the revenue neutral level of taxation for volumetric taxation and it came in at about $35.

“What that would mean if it was imposed today, is that some drinks would go up in price, some drinks would come down in price and there would be a fair number in the middle that would not change by very much.

“The committee has recommended that volumetric tax be done, but that it is phased in so that there is no sharp adjustment period required.”

The inquiry also recommended expanding the number of outlets which are permitted, with the Senator telling TheShout: “We have recommended that packaged alcohol be sold in convenience stores, petrol stations and supermarkets. That is pretty much the case in the ACT, certainly in supermarkets and does the ACT have an alcohol consumption problem? Not at all. So these predictions that all this irresponsible drinking will occur if it is available in multiple locations is just not borne out by the evidence. In many countries you can buy alcohol in a 7-11 and they have even lower alcohol consumption than we have in Australia.”

In terms of licences and fees for selling packaged alcohol the Senator said that while he was against licences and fees, “there probably is an argument for having a licence and a licence fee for selling alcohol, because if they are totally irresponsible then there is a lever. You can say ‘we are going to take that licence away from you, so don’t sell alcohol to children or to the totally drunk’. So there may be some grounds to have some kind of licence.”

Additionally the report has highlighted that the existing state-based Responsible Service of Alcohol qualifications currently have no mutual recognition. 

Senator Leyonhjelm added: “You can get an RSA in one state and then come to New South Wales and you have to do it all again. Most countries don’t even have RSA obligations, but Australia not only has them, but you have to get them for each state.”

The final report will be issued later this year at which point the Government will be required to respond and the Senator added: “Alcohol consumption is declining in Australia, the binge drinking culture is pretty much over and the laws have not kept up with that. There are good indications that Australians are moving to quality rather than quantity. So we’ve made some broad recommendations in terms of targeted enforcements rather than blanket rules. 

“Alcohol has history of temperance and disapproval and we have many, many legacies of that kind of thinking that don’t bear any relation to the genuine risks involved and we really need to change the way we regulate the industry, based on actual risk not disapproval.”

A copy of the report can be found on the Parliament of Australia website.

The Shout Team

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

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