Australian Premier John Brumby’s promise to battle the social ills of alcohol has been undermined by inaction on the expansion of big discount liquor stores and bottle shops, often in socially disadvantaged areas. The State Government has accepted only two of the 27 recommendations from its Liquor Control Advisory Council on how to control the booming retail liquor market and its impacts on binge and under-age drinking.
The council’s report found the number of retail liquor stores had increased more than 60% in Victoria in the past decade — to 1851 outlets. The report also revealed the dominance of the state’s biggest purveyor of alcohol — Woolworths.Since the Government lifted the cap on big players in the liquor market five years ago, Woolworths, which owns the Dan Murphy’s chain, has boosted its outlets from 135 to 233 stores. Coles liquor group owns 178 licences.
Woolworths has recently been involved in several cases where communities and local councils, concerned about a saturation of liquor stores, have fought to stop the company establishing new Dan Murphy’s outlets. In September, residents and Manningham City Council lost its bid to stop Woolworths turning a Doncaster Safeway supermarket into a Dan Murphy’s. Last year, against the wishes of police and the Darebin Council, a Dan Murphy’s was approved next to a Salvation Army alcohol treatment centre in Preston. (if ever there was a case of big business succeeding over a community need this must surely be it NDPA)
In its submission to the council’s review of the liquor store market — or packaged liquor — the Liquor Stores Association of Victoria said the state’s saturated market would lead to irresponsible discounting “in direct conflict with the principle of harm minimisation”. Most submissions to the inquiry, including some from the liquor industry, said communities should be given more power to object to new liquor store licences, and community or social impact statements should be included in the application process.
The council, however, did not recommend giving more power to communities. It did say the State Government should review home delivery of alcohol with takeaway meals and groceries because it was concerned the practice gave minors easier access to alcohol. The council, which advises the Government on alcohol issues in the community, is made up of community, police and alcohol industry representatives. The State Government, after sitting on the report for seven months, recently adopted two of the council’s recommendations: one that requires outlets to have extra shelf signage about under-age drinkers, and another about applicants advertising their intentions in local newspapers.
A spokeswoman for Consumer Affairs Minister Tony Robinson said the other recommendations would be looked at during a review of all categories of liquor licences, as outlined in the Victorian Alcohol Action Plan. Two recommendations have been referred back to the council. Mr Robinson said the Government was committed to reducing alcohol abuse in the community. He denied that the community had little say in fighting liquor store applications. Input was also sought from local councils and the police.
“Each application is judged on its merits, and the director of Liquor Licensing’s decision may be challenged at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal,” he said. But Mary Wooldridge, the Opposition’s community services spokeswoman, said the minister was doing nothing to curb the saturation and inappropriate location of liquor stores, despite evidence linking them to a range of social problems, including property damage.
The Government’s alcohol plan only briefly mentioned packaged liquor, she said.
In its battle against booze culture, the State Government has been accused of unfairly focusing on nightclubs. A recent government report into the regulatory impact of increasing licence fees shows that although packaged liquor licences have massively increased over 10 years, the bigger growth has been in “on-premises” licences for bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes. The overall growth in new licences peaked in 2002-03 and has since been in decline.
The report, released last month, shows the number of offences recorded at licensed premises in Victoria has actually decreased from 8166 in 2002-03 to 6835 in 2006-07.
But total police incidents where the offender was alcohol or drug-affected (including those on licensed premises) rose from 11,808 to 14,556 in the same period.
A spokesman for Woolworths declined to comment for this report.
Source: TheAge.com.au Sun 2nd Nov.2008