Alcopop tax fails to clear final hurdle

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 19th March 2009

The alcopops tax has failed to receive enough votes in the Senate after Family First Senator Steve Fielding sided with the Coalition.

The Bill was initially passed 32-31 after National Senator Nigel Scullion missed out on voting as he failed to hear the bell, which signals the time for a vote. The Labor Government bowed to convention, however, and allowed a second vote. It was then defeated 32-31, with Labor Senator Mark Bishop caught missing in action on what turned out to be a chaotic day for the Senate.

The controversial 17% tax, which was added to ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages last April, has already raised almost $300 million – money which may now be returned to distillers.

The Opposition and Greens have suggested that the tax can be kept by the government and used for health programs but Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, believes it must be refunded to distillers.

“The legal position here is clear,” she told ABC last night. “Our obligation is to return the tax dollars to the distillers.”

Distillers have previously indicated that they would not ask for the tax revenue to be returned.

The legislation fell down after Labor failed to meet Mr Fielding’s demands for a closure of the loophole which allows alcohol advertising during sporting events during family viewing times.

“I’m offering the Rudd Government a lifeline, a way to break this stalemate in the Senate on the alcopops tax,” Senator Fielding said yesterday prior to the vote. “Family First has already won concessions from the government on warning labels and an advertising campaign. Now the Rudd Government must have the courage to stand up to the alcohol giants and break this link between alcohol and sport.”

“I am offering three years to bring this in as a measure of good faith.”

There has been speculation the government could try taking the tax hike back to the Senate once more before the deadline for the Bill expires at the end of this week.