Will Australian governments set a minimum beer price for beer in pubs?

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 14th August 2012

The Australian National Preventative Health Agency (ANHPA) is conducting an enquiry into whether governments in Australia should be setting a national floor price for alcoholic drinks served in bars and hotels.

The enquiry seems to have been triggered by a number of international developments where minimum pricing has been set in countries such as Russia and Scotland. The fact that  governments in Australia already impose substantial consumption taxes and turnover taxes on alcohol seems to be outside the scope of the ANPHA’s enquiry. This is because the ANHPA is a body whose responsibilities are solely concerned with preventative health. By venturing into the pricing of alcohol, it is stepping into broader fiscal and economic policy considerations that extend well beyond its healthy food brief.

The Australian Hotels Association (AHA) says that there is a lack of support for the suggestion that a national minimum alcohol price would succeed as a preventative health measure. The AHA published a statement saying available evidence on minimum alcohol pricing would suggest the decision could have a significant detrimental impact on the Australian hospitality industry and consumers of alcohol within licensed establishments.

The AHA believes aged pensioners, who are the major buyers of cask wine, would be hit hardest by minimum pricing. In addition the AHA says evidence suggests the domestic wine industry and surrounding hotels located in the wine regions would suffer reduced patronage and profit loss. Drink prices across the spectrum would be forced to rise as a result and impact the majority of moderate consumers rather than harmful drinkers.

The AHA argues there is an “absence of compelling evidence” that any suggested policy would prove beneficial in reducing harmful drinking practices and “there is no justification for a national minimum alcohol price to be introduced in Australia.”

NSW Government Bureau of Crime and Statistics

Yet research conducted on behalf of the New South Wales Government Bureau of Crime and Statistics supports the view that increased alcohol prices and taxes may be an effective measure for reducing alcohol consumption and related harms. Using examples from Russia, which currently boasts one of the world’s highest alcohol consumption rates and alcohol-related injury, the submission by the New South Wales Government Bureau of Crime and Statistics discusses the introduction of minimum national prices as part of a campaign to reduce excessive drinking.

Yet in concluding the report also admits that the argument by the ANPHA for minimum pricing would be strengthened with further empirical evidence on “the likely impacts” that is not currently publicly available.