Most people were shocked when Volkswagen admitted it falsified emission controls in its diesel engines so they could pass air pollution tests. Volkswagen’s liberty with the truth illustrates the need for rigorous regulation of industries that produce consumer goods that endanger health and wellbeing. It’s worth bearing Volkswagen in mind as the Government of South Australia has announced a review of its liquor laws, and wants public comment on a discussion paper by 29 January 2016.
The Liquor Licensing Review Discussion Paper proposes three themes to guide the review: ‘red tape reduction, a safer drinking culture and vibrancy’. ‘Reducing red tape’ and the desire for a ‘vibrant economy’ should not lead to a reduction in the level of regulation over the sale and public consumption of alcohol.
The discussion paper cites key issues for consideration, such as trading hours, closing times, ‘lockouts’, licence fees, whether supermarkets should have the right to sell alcohol, and whether South Australia should introduce a secondary supply law to control the drinking of alcohol by under-age children.
Regular GrogWatch readers know that we think SA must implement secondary supply legislation to allow parents to control their children’s access to alcohol. That is long overdue and SA is the only jurisdiction to allow any person to supply under-age people with alcohol without parental knowledge and approval.
Supermarkets being licensed to sell alcohol from their grocery shelves would mean alcohol being treated as a ‘normal commodity.’ South Australians already have easy access to alcohol through myriad bottle shops and liquor stores. If supermarkets sell alcohol, convenience stores will want liquor licences to compete with them, and petrol stations will want liquor licences to compete with convenience stores. Competition is not the only value of importance in a civilised society, and even the recent Review of National Competition Policy rejected the idea that ‘competition should always trump public policy considerations’.
While the discussion paper notes the value of ‘food and wine exports’ from SA in 2013-14 was $2.8 billion, it does not mention any of the financial, economic or other costs imposed by alcohol misuse upon the people of South Australia. Consideration of alcohol’s contribution to road trauma, assault, family violence, injury, and 60 separate health conditions and diseases is missing from the paper, although licensing matters such as numbers and density of venues and trading hours are predictors of various alcohol-related harms.
For example, each year approximately 12,500 South Australians are hospitalised due to chronic and acute alcohol conditions and approximately 600 South Australians die due to drinking. SA Police report that in the central business district of Adelaide, 58% of victim-reported crime was alcohol related and 65% of serious assaults were alcohol related, 65% of minor assaults were alcohol related, and in 2009, 90 alcohol-related glassings occurred.
We hope the many South Australians who are concerned by the extensive toll of alcohol on individuals and communities will make their views on the discussion paper known to policy-makers. The community should expect government to enact policy that is informed by the best available evidence, and to regulate the alcohol industry closely in order to give priority to the health and wellbeing of all South Australians.