The Western Australian government this week announced a proposal to apply a floor price to takeaway alcohol, another ingenious idea to create even more inequality between the rich and the poor, as well as hurting law-abiding citizens for the actions of a minority.
As any economics student will tell you, as prices increase through higher taxes, demand will fall. But the issue is, we’re not dealing with an ordinary commodity here. For problem drinkers – those this policy is allegedly designed to help – alcohol is a form of escapism, a dependency. For these problem drinkers, the price floor won’t stop them drinking, it will only make it more difficult to make purchases on necessities, paving the way for even more societal issues within the community. This regulation will only hurt law-abiding moderate drinkers and will have little effect on the problem drinkers, which is the opposite effect the government is trying to achieve.
What happens when problem drinkers can’t afford their booze? Go without? Not likely. The immediate alternatives range from illegal drugs and can go on to black market liquor, methylated spirits, and creating homebrew distilled concoctions with even worse health consequences. At least with retailed alcohol, there are means of monitoring these issues, when alcohol or drugs are bought under the table, how will this epidemic ever be solved?
This is yet another grab for cash from the nanny state and a government desperate to squeeze taxpayers to pay for overspending, targeting the disadvantaged and lower income earners, and avoiding the real issues of alcohol abuse in this country. Cask wine (let’s face it, we all call it goon) has been the basis of Australian nightlife for generations. Alcohol acts as a social lubricant for many, a means of letting go and enjoying yourself. Goon has been the star guest at numerous social gatherings throughout my years and I, for one, am not willing to let my consumption choices be manipulated by a government so against youth culture and having a good time.
Being a young student in Sydney is expensive enough as it is, smashed avocado on toast and soy lattes are certainty pricey enough without throwing away our single source of a bargain, in cheap, almost bearable wine. Aldi wine specifically has been the recipient of numerous awards, and should not be misjudged based on the price it retails for. If anything, the ability to produce great wine at low costs should be commendable, not criticised.
Despite what we are made to believe, drinking has declined rapidly in young people as of late. Australian consumption of alcohol has fallen by over 25 per cent since the seventies and “young people have sharply reduced their drinking over the last decade; in particular Australian teenagers are drinking less alcohol, and in less risky quantities.” So why now target the low-income earners, pensioners and young people? It is clearly just a way to tax the vulnerable for a quick increase in revenue by government unwilling to make the tough decisions.
It might come as a surprise to know that it’s not even the poor who are the biggest culprits here, studies have shown that Australian income earners in the highest quintile consume five times the amount of those in the lowest. The same is true around the world: according to the UK’s Office for National statistics, “binge drinking is also more common among people on top salaries than any other income group” while in the US “the rich outdrink the poor by 27 per cent”. If the government was truly interested in reducing problem drinking, it would be aiming its policies towards the richer consumers. From this, it is clear the West Australian Labor government is only focused on hurting the poor and not addressing the health outcomes of alcohol abuse.
All in all, this just demonstrates how desperate our government is in trying to control our every move and limit our individual freedom. Shouldn’t we stand up for our rights to spend our hard earned money on whatever we desire?
In a free and liberal democracy, individuals should have the right to form their own ideas and spend their money how they choose. Alcohol prices should not be artificially altered to reduce a problem with a small minority of people, this topic goes so much deeper. Alcohol abuse is, at its roots, an addiction, the message that binge drinking leads to severe health implications needs to be the focus here. Further financially abusing those of us in the community who can afford at least is the exact opposite approach to what we should be taking. Our government needs to look beyond plugging their budget hole, and more into the wellbeing of the Australian people.
Sarah Ray is a Research Associate at the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
[This article first appeared in The Spectator Australia]