It’s happening again.
Beer is being portrayed as the bad guy and wrongly responsible for all of society’s ills as a result of an industry call for an altering of the tax on beer. CUB this week sent a confidential submission to Treasury requesting a freeze on CPI-driven tax increases on beer, stating that the beer industry is no longer “recession proof” and that it is time beer received similar favours to that enjoyed by wine and other beverages.
In response, Michael Thorn from a group called The Foundation for Alcohol Research, says that in fact the opposite is preferable and that beer tax should be increased for the good of the community.
“Beer drinkers are sadly responsible for most of the problems we see on our streets from irresponsible drinking and we know that price is the key determinant,” he told Neil Mitchell on Melbourne radio station 3AW this morning. Beer drinkers are responsible for most of the problems? Price is the key determinant? Lucky he stopped short of jumping to any grossly false and ill-conceived conclusions, eh?
Being very familiar with Responsible Service of Alcohol guidelines and legal responsibilities, the figures of ALCOHOL related harm and its associated costs is something with which this writer is very familiar. The numbers of deaths and injuries, in cars and of pedestrians, of hospital in-patient and emergency room admissions and of domestic violence and other related crime figures are frightening reading.
However, nowhere in the studies and research papers is there a break down showing just how much of this is attributable to BEER. We all must have just a sneaking suspicion that kids loading up on RTDs and cheap Alco-Pops before hitting nightclubs might be happening? We know blokes don’t mind smashing a few bourbon and colas back at home before heading out to pay $10 an each at the restaurant and God forbid we ignore that sub-class that addles their brains with illegal drugs before making their way into our towns and cities for a big night.
Why single out beer? Perhaps it would do Mr Thorn a world of good to pop into any one of the hundreds of bars, restaurants, cocktail joints and brewery bars in Australia to see beer drinkers enjoying their favourite brews responsibly while contributing to the more than 6 billion dollars that tax revenue swipes from beer and other alcohol.
And as to his generalisation about lower beer pricing? Maybe he could climb the bar and ask for a show of hands of those who would happily drink more beer in a session if the tax were relaxed. Would they suddenly become irresponsible for the sake of a few cents and wander off into the night to king-hit some unsuspecting stranger?
You can argue whether having a twice-yearly automatic price rise is fair tax policy and you can debate the inequality that exists between beer and, say, wine. You can point to the fact that Australians pay more per case in tax* than every other developed nation and argue that it’s unfair. That’s not for here.
The issue here is that someone with a barrow full of agenda to push has again had a cheap shot at a beverage that, more than ever, is beginning to bring communities together and providing a vibrant and profitable segment of the economy. It is reviving traditional artisan crafts and creating interest in the history and cultural significance of beer.
I am in no way suggesting that problems do not exist as a result of alcohol abuse. 12 years in the State Emergency Service has shown me quite graphically that we as a society have issues with alcohol abuse. But don’t single out beer and don’t make generalisations that don’t don’t hold water. Or wine. Or RTDs. Or whatever poison you choose.
Just don’t expect me to allow you to piff rocks at my house and get away with it.
*Australians pay around $32 per litre of alcohol compared to $28 (UK), $24 (SWEDEN), $10 (NETHERLANDS and GREECE) $9 (ITALY and HUNGARY) $6 (CANADA) $4 (FRANCE), $3 (SPAIN and GERMANY) and $2 in CALIFORNIA.