FARE efforts shape Harper Review outcome

National Competition Policy was first introduced in the 1990s and was responsible for much of the relaxation in the regulation of alcohol’s availability, impacting on trading hours and outlet numbers in Australia.

Naturally, the announcement in 2014 of a review into competition policy (undertaken by a panel chaired by Professor Ian Harper) was seen by public health advocates as a threat of further deregulation of alcohol controls in Australia.

In response to the announcement, FARE was instrumental in successfully encouraging interested parties and those within the public health sector to join us in making submissions to Professor Harper’s review.

As a result of this effort, the Competition Policy Review final report has recognised that alcohol is no ordinary commodity.

On balance, FARE is pleased with the general outcome of the final report. Since releasing its draft report, the Review Panel has significantly shifted their views in relation to alcohol policy, acknowledging both the harms it causes and the need for regulation.

The Panel acknowledged the need for alcohol to be regulated in Australia due to the harm it causes, the importance of harm minimisation as an objective of liquor licensing legislation in Australia, and the need for state and territory governments to be able to set trading hours and planning and zoning controls respective to their needs.

This was a major accomplishment for the combined efforts of the sector and I am confident this will assist significantly in public health efforts to stop the harms caused by alcohol through availability controls.

However not all of the Harper Review findings were favourable.

On harm minimisation, the Panel correctly identified the importance of applying public interest tests to liquor licence legislation. But by arguing that the onus of proof should be placed on those arguing for a public health interest, instead of the applicants, the Harper Review positions a cash-strapped public health sector at a great disadvantage.

Disappointingly, the Panel did not accept that alcohol should not be sold in supermarkets – a measure opposed by FARE on the grounds that increases to the physical and economic availability of alcohol leads to increased alcohol consumption and resultant harms.

Thankfully, rather than simply accept all of the Panel’s proposed changes, the Minister for Small Business has instead called for a further round of regulatory review.

This additional consultation means that FARE, along with our colleagues in the health sector, will still have the opportunity to positively influence these reviews.

FARE has produced a comprehensive information brief which assesses the Competition Policy Review final report in greater detail.

To find out more about how these proposals will impact on Australia’s alcohol policies, you can download the brief here.

Written submissions can be made by Tuesday 26 May 2015 to competition@treasury.gov.au.

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Michael Thorn

Michael is the Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), and tweets from @MichaelTThorn.

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