Alcohol reform: the ins and outs

p1928-Todd-Tavern-bottle-shBy ERWIN CHLANDA


“Don’t mention takeaways” appears to be the motto for the NT Government in its dealing with the review into alcohol policies by Trevor Riley, former Chief Justice of the NT who continues to serve as an Additional Judge.


But just as Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers tries hard not to bring up the War in front of his German guests and it keeps popping up anyway, so does the only one of 220 alcohol reform recommendations in the Riley Review which the government has rejected: no bottle shops trading on Sundays.


Yet when the same government was forced to deal with the horrendous recent events in Tennant Creek, the alleged rape of a two-year-old and a violent death, it resorted to measures about takeaway trading: The six venues licensed to sell takeaway there, for at least seven days, will be restricted, per customer, to 30 cans or stubbies of mid-strength or light beer; or 24 cans full strength beer; or 12 cans or bottles of Ready to Drink mixes; or one two litre cask of wine; or one bottle of fortified wine; or one 750 ml bottle of spirits. They will be permitted to trade only between 3pm and 6pm.


And what do you know? No Sunday trading.


Justice Riley recommends the NT Government to “continue to vigorously lobby the Australian Government” for a volumetric tax.


Meanwhile he has recommended that the NT Government introduce a floor price of about $1.50 per standard drink. The NT Government has settled for $1.30.


That means there would be no difference for most beverages except for the very cheap ones – cask wine (current price per standard drink is around 75 cents), sherry and port.


These are the booze of choice for problem drinkers. It will be vital to monitor whether the effect of the floor price, as feared by many, will be that the adults drink just as much but the children eat less.


Wines selling for around $10 a bottle will go up to around $10.50, and there will be no difference to bottles of spirits.


The reports recommends, and this has been supported by the government, that a “Liquor Commission be established as the independent and primary decision maker under the Liquor Act”.


Coupled with its obligation to take account of public views and demands, this could be a potent shortcut from the public to the decision makers, bypassing politicians and bureaucracy.


The recommendation, also supported by the government, that the “structure and operations of the Commission is to reflect the matters discussed in this report” is worth keeping an eye on: Will it restrict the operation of the Liquor Commission, tethering it to what Judge Riley wants?


Apart from the rejected no Sunday trading recommendation the government is supporting about three quarters of the recommendations and giving “in principle support to the rest”.
“In” are these recommendations:-


p2510 Grog in river PAAC 450• The government imposes an immediate moratorium on issuing new takeaway licences to allow for a new framework to be established and take effect and because such licences have reached saturation point. A review is to be undertaken after the first five years when consideration is given to extending the moratorium.


Left: Grog litter in the Todd River, the yellow and black packaging belongs to a cheap port product. Photo  distributed by People’s Alcohol Action Coalition. 


• Applications for the substitution of premises are to be treated as new applications and be subject to the same requirements including consideration of the public interest and community impact test.


• The Liquor Act be rewritten “making it clear that at all times the onus rests firmly upon the applicant to establish the case for the outcome sought by the applicant”.


• The licensing authority [the Commission] retain the power to vary licence conditions, including standard conditions, when considered necessary.


• Hospital emergency department data collected should include mandatory questions on the location of alcohol related events; consumption of alcohol in the past 12 hours; place of last alcoholic drink consumed; place where the majority of the alcohol was purchased.


• A more rigorous and publicised approach be taken to the compliance and enforcement regime to ensure compliance with the requirements of the licence and the Liquor Act. Failures should be met with consequences that deter the Licensee and others from similar conduct. Consequences of breaches should be both financial and reputational and be seen as part of broad cultural change in relation to alcohol.


p2006russellpic• The Liquor Act be amended to allow for harm minimisation audits to be conducted periodically in respect of licences, with the ability for the licensing authority to make a decision regarding suspension, revocation or amendment of the licence depending on the outcome of the audit.


Right: Drinking spot out bush. Government has given in principle support to a recommendation to provide some facilities and regulations to such spots. Photo by Russell Guy. 


• All forms of alcohol advertising and promotion should be subject to a comprehensive code and enforceable decisions with sanctions. The legislation should make clear that promotion (by whatever means) of alcohol by reference to harmful price discounts is prohibited.


• Liquor industry workers will have to pass a Responsible Service of Alcohol course before taking the job. This does not appear to be a major obstacle: In WA “government approved same day certificates” are on offer for $17.50.


• Consultation should start now with communities, which are subject to an Alcohol Protected Area declaration, about the future management of alcohol in that community when the declaration ceases in 2022.


• The Liquor Act should be amended to specifically empower the licensing authority to inquire into and promulgate local and regional Liquor Supply Plans. The Act should directly, or through regulations, specify in detail the powers and obligations of the licensing authority as well as the local community in developing such plans.


• A provision enabling police, emergency management personnel and Licence Inspectors to initiate preventative action (such as restricting the amount of alcohol sold per service, or suspending alcohol sales for a prescribed period of time) at major events if breaches of licence conditions are observed or alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour is becoming an issue.


• More effective collaboration between police, sobering up shelters, community patrols and local government to ensure a coordinated approach to tackling alcohol related problems in the community.


• POSIs (cops at bottle shops) continue in regional centres (including Alice Springs) after the commencement of the BDR (Banned Drivers Register) until (and unless) it can be demonstrated that they are no longer required.


p2510 Grog TBL archive 450• The Liquor Act be amended to empower uniformed Licensing Inspectors to undertake the POSI role. (The government notes “it may not be licensing inspectors, but other suitably empowered and trained personnel”.)


• There are 30 recommendations for dealing with the children suffering from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a consequence of their mothers drinking alcohol during pregnancy. All but five recommendations were supported. There are just five Early Childhood and Education recommendations, all supported.


• There should again be an Alcohol and Other Drugs Court (along the lines of the former SMART Court), with emphasis upon diversion and treatment. The operation of the new court be modified in light of the experience with the SMART Court and with the operation of similar courts in other jurisdictions. The support from the government was subject to the Department of the Attorney-General and Justice considering how this recommendation can be delivered.


• A review of sobering up shelters should be carried out to identify geographic areas of need; peak demand times of use; identify the most effective service delivery and funding model for each geographic area and examine and address the reasons for the low usage rates.


The following are in the “support in principle category”:-


• The impact of the introduction of a minimum unit price be rigorously evaluated after three years in relation to its impact on consumption and alcohol related harms. (It is not clear why this provision is not part of the government’s unconditional acceptance of the floor price.)


• Permitting the Commission to grant leave to peak industry bodies, key government agencies and peak community and health bodies, to make submissions when it holds a hearing with respect to a licence application or an alcohol management plan.


• Payment by licensees of annual “risk based” fees based on five principles.


• Several recommendations for trading times.


• Store licences transitioning to takeaway licences be subject to a condition restricting liquor sales to 15% of the gross annual sales of the business, and a seven year sunset period in which time the licensee obtains a takeaway licence and the transitional licence will cease to operate.
Several of the recommendations supported “in-principle” carry the government note “will be considered as part of the Liquor Act rewrite which is an important part of the Alcohol Harm Minimisation Action Plan 2018-2019”.


This recommendation is clearly in the “it can happen only here” category. Locals travelling bush roads, and or going for walks in the periphery of the town, are familiar with – and usually frown upon – coming across garbage and beer cans strewn under a shady tree where a boozy party has been in full swing.


These places are now accorded official status in Justice Riley’s review, although the government is giving that recommendation only in-principle support: “The NT Government, in consultation with the affected communities, reviews identified “drinking spots” throughout the Territory and, where appropriate, relocates the drinking spot away from major roadways; reduce speed limits near known drinking spots; provides appropriate signage to be developed in conjunction with communities and Aboriginal organisations, to warn road users of the existence of such spots; where practical provide water and shelter and adequate lighting to provide greater visibility of people or obstacles; ensure, where practical, regular patrols by Police Officers and / or community night patrols are undertaken at known drinking spots.


“The Northern Territory Government establish a working group to review strategies and initiatives to improve the safety of drinking spots in the Northern Territory.”



UPDATE March 5, 4:15pm


Vicki Gillick, Policy Co-ordinator of the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition, pointed out to us that we have confused a Minimum Unit Price (MUP), or floor price, with a volumetric tax, when mentioning Judge Riley’s recommendation about  lobbying  the Australia Government. A volumetric tax is a different creature, and may only be introduced by the Federal Government, she says. We have clarified the report accordingly. Thank you for panting this out!


Ms Gillick says there is no take-away cask wine (or other alcohol beverage) being sold for 75 cents per standard drink in Alice, and there hasn’t been for several years: “It is easy to check cask wine prices at the Gapview and Todd Tavern. The Gapview is currently selling two-litre casks for at $21, containing 20 standard drinks, so $1.05 per standard drink,” she says.


We were quoting from a table provided by the Alcohol Review Implementation Team in the Department of the Chief Minister, providing the following costs per standard drink from two litre cask wine: Renmano Chardonnay 71c, Yalumba Clasic Dry White 68c, Banrick Sauv Blanc 80c, Banrock Chardonnay 76c and Yalumba Fruity White 76c. These are clearly quoted because of problems with secondary sale and supply of alcohol.


Ms Gillick says Coles and Woolies take-away outlets sell wine in 750ml bottles for around $8 per bottle, or about $1 per standard drink (white wine typically has 7.4 to 7.7 drinks in a bottle), and that this will be the main trade affected by the floor price in Alice: “Bottled wine was available in Darwin for $5 for 750 mls last time I checked, so this will be affected, as will cask wine in Darwin.”


2485 rubbish in Todd 10She says the photo of the casks in the Todd river bed is seven years old. We’re happy to provide a current photo – here it is. Different year, same problem.


The Minimum Unit Price , or floor price, will very likely affect the quantity of take-away liquor sold, as will the Inspectors to be stationed at outlets – depending of course on what powers they are given under the new legislation, says Ms Gillick. A floor price of $1.50 would be better than $1.30, but at least  hopefully  this measure will be rigorously evaluated.




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4 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Chris
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 10:22 am

    @ Paul: No-one is allowed to take alcohol in to a dry community.
    The government isn’t banning them from drinking alcohol, its banning take away for certain people who have nowhere to drink. They can still go to the pub where the publican can control the amount they have through responsible service.
    It is already happening at remote places in the Territory where certain people from dry communities can’t get takeaway but can drink at the pub.
    The problem is when they drive to Alice Springs and load up with as much cheap grog as they can.

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  2. Chris
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 10:16 am

    Paul, it is basically what the police were doing in the first place which, whether we like it or not, was very successful in reducing alcohol related problems.
    Ask the police and nurses in the hospital. Only difference is, its not using police resources.
    Couldn’t agree more that prohibition does create a market for illegal trade which is why I suggested the yellow for restricted trade.
    Not a perfect solution but better than the others I have heard, apart from taking away sit down money and using basics cards.

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  3. Paul Parker
    Posted March 2, 2018 at 12:18 pm

    Re: Chris Posted March 1, 2018 at 12:38 pm
    Chris writes: “Why not automatically put everyone on the BDR who resides in a dry community.”
    Like most ideas, what’s missing is full consideration of the practical wide range of circumstances.
    Prohibition creates a market for illicit alcohol, then makes everyone an illegal consumer.
    The USA tried the prohibition approach, banning everyone from drinking alcohol, including those not creating problems. Was that really a success?
    Will everyone living in an (often by name only) dry community be banned from consuming alcohol elsewhere within the NT when they leave that community ?
    Will visitors to dry communities not on the Banned Drinker Register be permitted take alcohol to a dry community ?

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  4. Chris
    Posted March 1, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Here is an idea!
    Since everyone has to show ID when purchasing alcohol, why not automatically put everyone on the BDR who resides in a dry community, (black or white).
    OR instead of having a simple SALE (open slather Green) or NO SALE (Red).
    Why not have a yellow for restricted, so certain people can’t buy cheap wine, bottles of spirits etc.
    Lets face it, prohibition rarely works, as they may just find a substitution, deodorant / glue / petrol sniffing etc.
    Maybe have the restricted sales to mid-strength cans only. It is hot and dry in Central Australia and everyone should be able to have a beer (until proven otherwise for crime etc.)
    This way, businesses are little affected, and the government still gets the large tax income from alcohol. Surely its worth a try?
    As for the little dears running amok in town at night causing damage, since the parents seem to not want to do too much, why not take the damage out of their next royalties payment.
    When mum and dad can’t afford their new Commodore cause little Johnny went on a crime spree, maybe they will “take care of him” next time.
    Just a thought!

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