28 Sep, 2011 Last updated: 30 Nov, 2014

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) has used an Alcohol Tax Forum in Canberra to call on the Government to adopt a more consistent approach to alcohol taxation that will contribute to more responsible alcohol consumption and help reduce the health and social harms that are caused by alcohol.

Download the NAAA's communique on alcohol tax reform.

The National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) has used an Alcohol Tax Forum in Canberra held on 28 September, 2011, to call on the Government to adopt a more consistent approach to alcohol taxation that will contribute to more responsible alcohol consumption and help reduce the health and social harms that are caused by alcohol.

The NAAA Forum was attended by leading public health experts, health economists, and politicians including Greens Health Spokesperson Senator Richard Di Natale and the Labor Member for Fraser Dr Andrew Leigh, a former Professor of Economics at ANU, both of whom have a special interest in alcohol taxation.

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, questioned why the Government was reluctant to approach alcohol taxation reform and why it had excluded alcohol tax from next month’s Tax Forum.

“The Government has a strong record in public health with tobacco plain packaging and the alcopops tax, and it should be building on this momentum,” Dr Hambleton said.

“The evidence for the need for alcohol tax reform is considerable and beyond challenge. Most Australians drink alcohol in moderate amounts but many, including teenagers and young Australians, drink excessively at times and put themselves and others at risk of serious harm.

“The way that alcohol is currently taxed helps to sustain alcohol related harms by making it cheap and easy for people to drink excessively.

“The price of alcohol plays a big role in how much alcohol people consume, particularly for teenagers and young people. The cheaper it is, the more available it becomes.

“Forty per cent of red wine and 36 per cent of white wine sold through bottle-shops and liquor wholesalers is sold for less than $6 a bottle.

“Taxation isn't just about raising money for the Government. It is a very effective way of encouraging people to change their behaviour, especially the harmful social and health behaviours that affect them, their family and friends, and others in the community,” Dr Hambleton said.

Chair of the NAAA, Professor Mike Daube, said the NAAA believes that all alcoholic drinks should be taxed - and priced - on the basis of the amount of alcohol in the drink.

“The higher the alcohol content, the higher the price – that is how it should work. The price of alcohol should track its potential to be harmful,” Prof Daube said.

“Urgent reform is needed to address the $36 billion in social and health costs that excessive alcohol use causes each year.

“Getting alcohol tax policy right is especially important if we are to change the drinking culture that has so many young people drinking to get drunk. What kind of signal does it send out to young people when they can get wine for less than $2 a litre – cheaper than bottled water?

“The Henry Review recommended a new approach to alcohol taxation based on volumetric or alcohol content-based tax and the Government’s own Preventative Health Taskforce has also called for taxes on alcohol to be overhauled.

“The NAAA has more than 50 member organisations, all of whom see the need for reform. We intend to send a strong message to the Government tomorrow that alcohol taxation reform is a major public health and social policy issue in this country and urgent action and leadership is required to improve health, restore quality of life, and save lives,” Prof Daube said.

The NAAA notes the call this week by the two large wine companies, Premium Wine Brands and Treasury Wines Estates, for the abolition of the Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) and the introduction of modified volumetric taxation, which is at odds with the views of Winemakers Federation of Australia.

The NAAA notes also the comments  from Finance Minister Penny Wong. In relation to the Government’s budget strategy, the Minister told reporters in Canberra that:

“…It also means understanding the longer term pressures, pressures in health, pressures in social security, pressures that will have to be dealt with by governments of all political persuasions in the decades ahead …

“But … tax reform is never finished, it is something you have to keep continuing …”

Background:

• About 10 per cent of all Australians put their health at long-term risk by drinking too much, and 20 per cent drink at a level that is risky in the short term;
• Each week, on average, 60 Australians die and a further 1,500 are hospitalised as a result of excessive alcohol consumption;
• Excessive consumption fuels violence and significantly contributes to crime;
• In 2007, one-third of 12-15 year old Australians and nearly 80 per cent of 16-17 year olds had drunk a full-serve of alcohol;
• 80 per cent of alcohol consumed by people aged 14-24 is consumed in ways that put the drinker’s (and others’) health at risk;
• alcohol has been causally linked to more than 60 different medical conditions, including cirrhosis of the liver, inflammation of the gut and pancreas, heart and circulatory problems, sleep disorders, male impotency, eye diseases and conditions, and alcohol dependence; and
• alcohol consumption raises the overall risk of cancer, including cancer of the mouth, throat and oesophagus, breast cancer and bowel cancer.

NAAA Member Organisations – September 2011

1 Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory
2 Addiction Journal
3 Alcohol and Drug Foundation Queensland
4 Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia
5 Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation
6 Alcohol Policy Coalition (Vic)
7 Anglicare Australia
8 Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine
9 Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance
10 Australian Dental Association
11 Australian Drug Foundation
12 Australian Health Promotion Association
13 Australian Medical Association
14 Australian National Council on Drugs
15 Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth
16 Cancer Council Australia
17 Cancer Council Victoria
18 Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research
19 Diabetes Australia
20 Drug Arm
21 Hobart City Council
22 Independent Order of Rechabites Queensland District No. 87 Inc.
23 Injury Control Council of WA (Inc)
24 Inner South Community Health Service
25 Kidney Health Australia
26 Local Government Association Northern Territory
27 McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth
28 National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre
30 National Drug Research Institute
31 National Heart Foundation Australia
32 National Local Government Drug and Alcohol Committee
33 National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Related Disorders
34 National Stroke Foundation
35 Network of Alcohol and Other Drug Agencies
36 People's Alcohol Action Coalition (Alice Springs)
37 Public Health Advocacy Institute
38 Public Health Association Australia
39 Queensland Network of Alcohol and Drug Agencies
40 Royal Australasian College of Physicians
41 South Australian Network of Drug and Alcohol Services
42 Sydney South West Area Health Service
43 Ted Noffs Foundation
44 Telethon Institute for Child Health
45 The University of Newcastle
46 The University of Queensland
47 The University of Southern Cross
48 The University of Wollongong
49 Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre
50 Uniting Church in Australia
51 VicHealth
52 Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association
53 Western Australian Local Government Association
54 Western Australian Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies
55 Western Region Alcohol and Drug Centre