Why isn't alcohol on the agenda

Why isn’t alcohol on the national agenda?

As the national election draws near it’s time to consider what solutions the political parties are offering to Australia’s alcohol problem. It’s worth remembering the cost to Australia from alcohol problems amounts to $16 billion per annum1.

If that was cut by 30% it would pay for a very generous parental leave scheme.

Both major parties are busy telling electors the issues on which to focus are economic –the budget deficit, and the need to increase productivity—strangely, the role of alcohol in contributing to the problem, or in contributing to the solution, is absent in both cases.

Virtually all independent economists agree the government has to find ways of increasing revenue. The obvious way is to tax wine as if it was alcohol. At the moment drinkers of cheap wine pay far less tax than drinkers of beer and spirits. This is an odd situation for political parties that talk about free markets and level playing fields.

The Institute of Public Affairs will tell you that Governments’ interventions into the market by imposing taxes and regulations can have “unintended consequences” into the economic viability of the country. However as outlined in the Conversation a number of weeks ago, ‘One hundred and fifty ways the nanny state is good for us’ by Simon Chapman he illustrates quite effectively the importance of laws, regulations and public awareness campaigns that have saved lives.

Alcohol’s impact in the workplace costs Australian business $6 billion per year due to lost productivity from absenteeism, injuries and deaths – the single biggest contribution to the overall toll of $16 billion. You might expect business interests would be in the front line of the keen eyed economic reformers.

So what are the parties offering?

The Liberal Party platform does not mention alcohol at all.

The National Party platform rejects any changes to the tax scheme that would disadvantage the wine industry (i.e. taxing alcohol on the same terms as beer and spirits) though it does call for the regulation of alcohol in Indigenous communities.

The ALP says it wants to ‘take clear steps to cut down on binge-drinking, especially youth binge-drinking’ but it fails to outline how it would do that.

The Australian Greens platform is the most comprehensive on alcohol. Its calls for

  • Reduction in all substance abuse, focusing on tobacco and alcohol
  • taxation to be based on alcoholic content rather than economic value
  • removal of alcohol promotion in sport that targets young people or encourage excessive drinking
  • Ban on financial donations from alcohol and tobacco industries to political parties and candidates

In contrast the Australian Sex Party wants to reduce taxation on alcohol as well as tobacco.

Why isn’t alcohol on the agenda when it costs our organisations, governments and communities billions of dollars? Does financial support to political parties campaigns have anything to do with it?


1. The Societal Costs of Alcohol Misuse in Australia