Ensuring liquor stores remain essential

17 September, 2020 by Deborah Jackson

As a national peak industry body, one of Retail Drinks’ core objectives is to advocate on its members’ behalf with all levels of government across Australia.

The past few months have demonstrated just how critical this function is with the ability of entire industries to continue operating being subject to the flick of a pen.

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While we first saw this when the Commonwealth Government announced its initial COVID-19 lockdown measures in March this year, this was again brought to the fore in July with the Victorian Government’s announcement of Stage Four lockdown measures, which were developed in response to a rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases across metropolitan Melbourne.

As was the case in the Commonwealth Government’s announcement, all liquor stores were deemed as an essential service and were therefore allowed to continue operating under the Stage Four restrictions. It should be pointed out that liquor stores were one of only a handful of industries permitted to operate as normal alongside other essential businesses such as supermarkets, pharmacies and service stations.

Throughout the Victorian Government’s deliberations on Stage Four lockdown measures, Retail Drinks was engaged in regular and proactive dialogue with key decision-makers to ensure that the voice of the retail liquor industry was being heard. This included providing key insights to Government and regulators on the need to maintain liquor retailing as an essential service, including the potential unintended consequences of any decision to restrict liquor retail or the ability to access alcohol via the liquor retail channel.

Another one of Retail Drinks’ key activities throughout this period was the re-launch of its Social Distancing Guidelines for Retail Liquor Stores to demonstrate its proactive approach towards ensuring staff and customer safety in-store. The Guidelines included an extensive checklist of practical steps and measures for stores to be COVID-SAFE, a range of posters and signage for in-store use, and information on recommended store safety and hygiene service providers. This resource was made available to all liquor retailers, regardless of whether they were a Retail Drinks member or not.

The recent experience in navigating Victoria’s Stage Four lockdown restrictions showed the importance of industry associations having proactive and continual engagement with government decision-makers in an uncertain and rapidly evolving regulatory landscape. In doing so, Retail Drinks was ultimately able to contribute to this positive policy outcome for its members.

This article was written by Michael Waters, Acting CEO of Retail Drinks Australia for the September issue of National Liquor News, which can be read in full online here.