Fielding again threatens progress of controversial alcopop tax

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 25th February 2009

Family First Senator Steve Fielding is considering once again taking a stand against the Rudd government’s alcopops tax hike – believing the tax to have been ineffective in tackling binge drinking.

It represents another change of heart for the Senator after he first rejected it on the grounds it was merely a tax grab before throwing his support behind it as the financial crisis threatened to blow a hole in the budget.

The Federal Government lifted the tax rate on alcopops – Ready-To-Drink alcohol beverages – by 70 per cent last April but still requires legislation to be passed through parliament for the increase to stand. And, with the Liberals against the legislation, all crossbench senators need to offer their support for it to be passed.

“From day one we’ve questioned the alcopops tax and its effectiveness of addressing binge drinking, and so we’ve always been concerned that this has been a revenue raiser, and not really an issue that tackles binge drinking. And I think a year on, it’s quite clear that the alcopops tax is a fizzer and has failed to tackle binge drinking,” he told ABC radio this morning. “And so that’s the issue for Family First, and that’s the reason why we will be moving a sunset clause against the Government in another six months to get this right so they can have the revenue from the tax for a year and a half, or the current year plus another six months, but in the next six months they must tackle the issue of binge drinking.”

“It’s quite clear the revenue that the Government has gotten over the last year, they will definitely get, and also for the next six months, but what we’re giving the Government is not a blank cheque, but they’ve got to address the issue with actually tackling the real issues of binge drinking,” Senator Fielding added. “And look, simple things like restricting alcohol advertising on television, if you’ve got an issue with binge drinking, why would you still allow alcohol ads to appear on television any time of the day?”

“Why wouldn’t you actually put health warning labels on alcohol products to reinforce a responsible drinking culture?”

The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, reportedly held talks with Senator Fielding on Monday night and will continue discussions with him.

“We’re very clear about what we hope to achieve, by producing this measure, and I would presume that he and other senators would not want to hand back hundreds of millions of dollars to the distillers if they refuse to pass this measure in the Senate,” Ms Roxon said.

The Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia has since advised that their members would request the tax revenue raised to be spent on alcohol education rather than receive the refund they would be entitled to if the legislation is blocked.

The Bill will be debated in the lower house this week.