Drink Tank

Department documents reveal political muscle of liquor industry

The political power of the alcohol retailing industry was on display for all to see in NSW after the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) uncovered a trail of bullying and pressure tactics against the alcohol regulators.

This is a tale of the well-resourced supermarket duopoly throwing its weight around and getting its own way.

It is a tale of how susceptible drinkers are sacrificed to maintain the profits of the liquor stores.

It is a testament to the influence of the supermarket duopoly that the Director-General would go against the strong advice of his senior bureaucrats and allow expert recommendations and evidence to be completely ignored.

The documents also help to explain why alcohol policy in NSW has been so troubled. The political power of the liquor store chains and their willingness to throw their weight around has seen this government and its predecessors fold to their demands on a number of occasions.

First, they and other industry heavyweights had free run of the rewriting of the liquor promotions guidelines. Their efforts then succeeded in weakening the restrictions on inappropriate or dangerous promotions in bottles shops.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this time the Director-General was under political pressure from then Hospitality Minister George Souris to fold to the campaign run by Woolworths.

Despite having the power to protect young people and the victims of domestic violence from the consequences of aggressive marketing of alcohol, the government has resisted any genuine reforms of the industry.

Bottle shops have a serious and proven impact on alcohol-related violence, especially in the home. Yet their density is increasing rapidly. Encouraging the patronage of bottle shops with shopper dockets and the purchase and consumption of higher volumes of alcohol by providing free bottles with another purchase is in every way a dangerous promotion.

The documents uncovered by FARE provide a powerful case for the shopper docket issue to be re-opened.

The NSW government has repeatedly failed to stand up to the political power of the liquor industry.

Freshly appointed Hospitality Minister Troy Grant has his first chance to clear the slate and show he is not the liquor industry’s point person in the Baird government.

He has the opportunity to finally provide the state with a set of guidelines on discounting and promotions that protects young people, domestic partners at risk of violence and the community as a whole.

John Kaye

John Kaye was elected as a Greens member of the NSW Legislative Council in March 2007. Before entering parliament, John taught and researched electrical engineering at the University of NSW where he specialised in sustainable energy and greenhouse issues. John obtained his PhD from the University of California Berkeley. He is a strong advocate for public education, renewable energy , effective public services, consumer rights and securing a sustainable water supply. He is committed to the core principles of the Greens – social justice, grassroots democracy, ecological sustainability and non-violence.

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