Drink Tank

Landmark floor price a win for the people of NT

On October the 1st 2018, the Northern Territory became the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce a floor price, or minimum unit price, (MUP) on alcohol.

The successful implementation of a floor price on alcohol in the NT is not only a win for all Territorians, but opens the door to its introduction across Australia, and ideally should positively inform the development of the Commonwealth Government’s draft National Alcohol Strategy.

The introduction of a MUP is timely, with the WHO Global status report on alcohol and health 2018 released last week highlighting the gap between drinking rates in the Territory and the rest of the world. The NT’s average per capita alcohol consumption is almost double the world average of 6.4 litres of pure alcohol.

A floor price is an evidence-based solution that will have virtually no impact on light to moderate alcohol drinkers, but will reduce alcohol consumption by the Territories’ heaviest drinkers.

Finally, world-high rates of drinking are being tackled with a world-leading alcohol policy intervention.

The Gunner Government should be commended for its resolve to tackle the Territory’s long-standing problems with heavy drinking, and the MUP should certainly be celebrated.

But it is important to remember that the MUP is just one part of a comprehensive package of evidence-based reforms that prioritise health and welfare throughout the NT, including the re-introduction of the Banned Drinkers Register, Point of Sale Interventions, strengthened regulation and curbs on aggressive alcohol marketing. All will result in less alcohol violence, crime, hospitalisations and deaths in the Territory.

The People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (paac) has been advocating for many of these alcohol policy reforms since 1995, with a continued focus on much of the NT’s harm statistics linked to shockingly cheap alcohol.

Grog – priced at times cheaper than water – is more like a form of poison in terms of the harm that it generates. The harm is a factor of price, not product type.

There have been various attempts over the years to remove this overly cheap alcohol from the market, all with some success.

But the holy grail has always been the achievement of a floor price.

So yesterday’s MUP introduction is a great development for public health in the Northern Territory.

In 2006, the Alice Springs Liquor Supply Plan effectively doubled the minimum unit price by forcing products from the market, achieving a near 20 per cent reduction in alcohol consumption in the town and a significant cut in alcohol-related harm – including about 120 fewer hospital admissions per year for Aboriginal women for assault.

We know that increasing the price works and it is very likely that the MUP, combined with the other measures being implemented by the NT government, will see drinking levels in the NT drop below the national average, which will be a great outcome for the people of the Northern Territory.

Our aspiration should be to halve the Territory’s alcohol consumption levels and to knock the NT off the world leaderboard as a dangerous drinking jurisdiction. In doing so, we will reduce the alcohol burden that weighs so heavily on communities throughout the Top End – Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

In the absence of a willingness at the Commonwealth level to address the availability of cheap alcohol through meaningful taxation reform, it is now up to the States and Territories to follow the lead of the NT.

Indeed, the Western Australian Government is currently doing just that.

And on the national stage, there is the opportunity to influence the National Alcohol Strategy so that it is informed by the range of evidence-based, life-saving measures being introduced into the NT, and not by an alcohol industry resistant to any measures that would reduce alcohol sales and impact its bottom line.

Michael Thorn

Michael was was Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) from January 2011 until November 2019

John Boffa

Dr John Boffa is the Chief Medical Officer Public Health at Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Aboriginal Corporation, and spokesperson for the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC).

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