Northern Territories minimum unit pricing faces backlash

15 October, 2018 by Deborah Jackson

The Northern Territory became the first jurisdiction to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) on 1 October, as part of the Northern Territory Alcohol Harm Minimisation Plan 2018-19, and retailers are already facing consumer backlash.

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Natasha Fyles, issued a media statement suggesting that some retailers may have been unfairly marking up products under the guise of MUP and urged Territorians who feel they are being price gouged to notify consumer affairs.

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The statements reads: “A number of radio talkback callers recently cited prices that were far beyond what a floor price would afford.

“One caller suggested his 30 pack of mid strength beers jumped from $35 to $42 due to the floor price. Under the floor price, his product could be sold for $35 (assuming at .09 a standard can).

“Another caller said her four pack of wines jumped from $40 to $60 due to the floor price. Under the floor price, her product could be sold for as little as $40 (assuming 7.7 standard drinks per bottle).

“Territorians can work out the minimum floor price for their product by: (standard drink) x (quantity) x (floor price). Example: Carlton Mid Strength Beer 0.9 x 30 x $1.30 = $35.”

TheShout has received feedback from a number of NT retailers saying that they would not even be able to purchase Carlton Mid Strength from CUB below $45, and that is before their usual retail mark up.

Julie Ryan, CEO of the Australian Liquor Stores Association (ALSA) told TheShout that it’s disappointing to see this misinformation from the NT Government.

“It is disappointing that the NT Government is attempting to use misinformation as a shield from what is quite legitimate public backlash to a policy that is causing the average responsible drinker on a moderate income significant hardship.

“For example, it is incorrectly quoted that Carlton Mid should be sold for $35 a case. Carlton Mid cannot even be purchased from CUB itself for that price.

“Industry has always been aware and advised that certain beer SKU will be affected by the MUP.”

Meanwhile, ALSA says that the introduction of a minimum unit price on alcohol in Western Australia will lead to similar backlash from responsible drinkers as seen in the NT.

Ryan said despite recent claims, the majority of Western Australians do not support a minimum floor price, which will see pensioners and working families hardest hit by increased costs of living.

“We have long advocated for targeted solutions to address alcohol-related harms, not population wide policies such as a floor price, which impacts everyone in the community,” Ryan said.

“There is also no established evidence to suggest minimum pricing is even an effective way to reduce excessive consumption or alcohol related harm.

“Based on our modelling, a pensioner couple who consumes two bottles of St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon between them each week could pay up to $1200 more per year should a $1.50 minimum floor price be introduced.

“This is a couple drinking well within the Government’s recommended drinking guidelines having to find roughly an extra $1200 per year – or 3.2 per cent of their pension – just to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.”

Beer lovers are equally affected, with a spate of negative media in the NT around cost increases on several beers following the implementation of MUP. These increases have been calculated and clarified as directly related to the minimum unit price and not ‘gouging’ as alleged.

Ryan says that while minimum pricing may seem like an easy step to make, it is the difficult step of addressing the root cause for alcohol misuse that is the only appropriate policy approach.

“The industry is committed to addressing and supporting the reduction of alcohol-related harms, but these solutions need to be targeted measures which address the root cause of the problems.

“Those that misuse alcohol will continue to find ways to access it, irrespective of any measures related to restricting their access or changing the price.

“It is only when the root cause for alcohol misuse is tackled, and addressed, that we will start to see any positive change.

“Policy making must start to shift its focus from supply to demand.”

Ryan urged the State Government to consider alternative measures which addressed the specific issues associated with alcohol misuse without placing further strain on working families and pensioners who drink responsibly.