On Friday, the 24th of February, Tim Andrews of the ATA and Satyajeet ‘Satya’ Marar of MyChoice Australia presented before the Select Committee on Red Tape on the inquiry into the effect of red tape on the sale, supply and taxation of alcohol. They presented a compelling case to reduce the red tape on alcohol and relax the stifling bureaucratic intervention on Australians’ ability to enjoy a night out.
The ATA, as Satya pointed out, submitted a series of proposals designed to ‘make it easier to do business, cheaper to do business, more efficient to do business and easier for consumers to access the products they need’ in a way that negative externalities such as alcohol-fuelled violence are minimised.
The climate for small businesses selling alcohol, as Satya pointed out, is difficult enough as it is. Brewers are taxed based on the keg size, and if you have a 40-litre keg of alcohol you are taxed at a greater rate than if you use a 50-litre keg. Since bigger brewers use bigger kegs, this creates an inherently unfair advantage for bigger liquor retailers, ‘making it almost impossible for some of these little guys to compete against the bigger guys.’
Tim called for the liberalisation of trading hours for liquor stores, stating that he does not believe ‘it is necessarily the role of government to put in restrictions to prevent one particular business from losing market share.’ It also creates massive inconvenience for shift workers working late at night, which ‘paradoxically means their only choice is to go to a bar outside the lockout area in Sydney.’
A final, and very important point, was made by Satya regarding the psychological and cultural aspects of taxing and regulating the sale of alcohol. For governments to continually insist that ‘alcohol equals violence’ encourages, rather than dissuades, drinkers. This is a self-perpetuating cycle involving a lack of trust in individuals and has the counter-intuitive effect of encouraging people to drink as much alcohol as they can, while they can. With this point, Senator Burston concurs.
Alcohol-fuelled violence is generally a problem accorded to the distinctive and proud nature of Australian ‘macho’ culture. But the ‘problem’ justifying excessive regulation and lock-out laws is ebbing.
As Satya notes, the per capita consumption of alcohol has fallen in the last few decades. This applies also to the rate of abstinence from alcohol:
‘We have become a more responsible and aware society. We have become a less violent society and a less drunkenly violent society. I do believe that it is time we reward our society for that by making it easier for a fair player to have access to his drink of choice.’
As part of his semester exchange at the University of Vienna, Satya noted that the more relaxed approach to alcohol in Austria consolidated the government’s trust in its own citizens. People in Vienna would drink ‘in the middle of the afternoon in the park’, and ‘no-one was getting heated and starting a fight.’
The Australian government needs to tone down the regulation and red tape surrounding the sale and purchase of alcohol. The current policy is unfair to the vast majority of individuals who just want to go out, have a drink with a few friends and not cause any trouble. Our government needs more faith in the individual, and more trust in rational, sensible adult citizens.
The full transcript of Tim and Satya’s statements to the Senate Committee can be found here.
Click here to read the full submission made by the ATA and MyChoice Australia.
Marija Polic is a Research Associate at the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance