A year ago last week the NSW Government released what the then Acting Minister for Hospitality the Hon Andrew Stoner MP referred to as “Tough new liquor promotion guidelines (the Guidelines) for licensed venues.”
The Liquor Promotion Guidelines (Promotion Guidelines) exist under the NSW Act 2007 to provide examples of the types of activities or promotions that are deemed unacceptable. The Promotion Guidelines spell out what is considered unacceptable activity, for example “Promotions which use characters, imagery, motifs, naming or designs which primarily appeal to minors.” Regulations relating to promotions need to be as robust as possible, because we know that exposure to alcohol promotions influences our drinking culture, particularly affecting young people’s attitudes towards drinking and behaviours.[i],[ii]
We have been watching the NSW Government’s approach to the development and management of the Promotion Guidelines since May 2013. In May 2013, the NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) got word that the 2009 Liquor Promotion Guidelines were being reviewed and updated in consultation with members of the alcohol industry. NAAPA knew that for these Promotion Guidelines to achieve their goal to “minimise harm associated with the misuse and use of liquor” and “encourage responsible attitudes and practices towards the promotion, sale, supply, service and consumption of liquor” public health experts needed to be involved. At this point NAAPA wrote to the Director General of the NSW Department of Trade and Investment requesting to be involved. This request was denied.
With this in mind we waited with baited breath for the new Promotion Guidelines to be released. When the revised Promotion Guidelines were released we quickly realised that the “tough new liquor promotion guidelines” were not so ‘tough’ at all. The 2013 Promotion Guidelines did provide more context and explanatory notes than the previous guidelines and but were not any tougher. The Promotion Guidelines seemed to be less restrictive than previous versions, particularly in relation to promotions occurring at ‘off-licence’ or ‘take-away’ premises despite Mr Stoner stating that the Promotion Guidelines “address the promotion of alcohol at all distributors including bottle shops and supermarkets”.
On 31 July 2013 Drink Tank released the consultation documents between members of the alcohol industry and the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR) in the development of the Promotion Guidelines. These documents were made public following a subpoena in the New South Wales Upper House by Member Dr John Kaye. The documents revealed that the final Promotion Guidelines had been significantly watered down from their original version. This occurred with help from members of the alcohol industry.
An example of this is OLGRs response to the Liquor Stores Association (LSA) concern that the Promotion Guidelines would result in the banning of the cheap promotions that often occurs in retail outlets. OLGR wrote back to the LSA indicating that “the additional sentence looks fine” and even went on to ask if the LSA “would you be happy” with the phrase “does not encourage excessive consumption of alcohol due to an increase in the volume purchased where it is likely to be consumed within a short timeframe”.
These changes have effectively made the Promotion Guidelines irrelevant to off-licence premises – which is where we purchase 80 per cent of our alcohol.
The media release accompanying the Promotion Guidelines stated that “The new guidelines not only address the promotion of alcohol through supermarket vouchers and shopper-dockets, but also the specific use of social media and interactive technology to promote alcohol consumption.”
Fast forward to May 2014, and Drink Tank released documents obtained under a Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 request on OLGR’s investigation into shopper dockets. These documents revealed that after a six month investigation OLGR found shopper dockets to be harmful. Despite this, the decision was overturned by the Director General of NSW Trade and Investment, after six months of ongoing interference from members of the alcohol industry to undermine the regulatory process. This interference is seen in the documents when a briefing note is sent to the Director General stating that “The Woolworths correspondence appears to be a calculated attempt to undermine ongoing regulatory inquiries and quash OLGR’s capacity to ventilate regulatory activities of public interest.”
The ongoing saga on how to deal with promotions in NSW highlight the fact that the regulation of promotion in NSW is insufficient and the Promotion Guidelines are grossly inadequate.
So what now? A review of the Liquor Act 2009 the legislation that underpins the Promotion Guidelines recommended that the Promotion Guidelines be reviewed after they have been in effect for 12 months. It was recommend that this review be open for public comment. It is now 12 months later.
The Promotion Guidelines were doomed from the start, but now with this second chance there is an opportunity for liquor promotions to be effectively regulated. Open consultation on the Promotion Guidelines provides an opportunity for community members and experts to be involved and to strengthen the way in which alcohol is promoted in NSW.
It is important that this second chance is not overlooked by the NSW Government, rather it is looked as another opportunity is taken to demonstrate its ongoing commitment and leadership to reducing alcohol harms.
[i]Wyllie A, et al. Responses to televised alcohol advertisements associated with drinking behaviour of 10–17-year-olds. Addiction 93 (3): 361-371. 1998[ii] Anderson, P, et al. Impact of alcohol advertising and media exposure on adolescent alcohol use: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Alcohol Alcsm 44:229-43. 2009