Northern Territory liquor retailers prepare to fight

09 July, 2018 by djackson

By Deborah Jackson, Editor National Liquor News

On 27 June, the Liquor Stores Association NT (LSA NT) President Faye Hartley met with Trevor Riley and members of the NT Government’s Alcohol Review Implementation Team (ARIT) to discuss LSA NT’s response to the Alcohol Policies and Legislation Review.

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Those Government staff attending included three members from the NT’s Attorney General, Natasha Fyles’ office including Emily Beresford-Cane, Chief of Staff, Deirdre Logie, Health Advisor and Hannah Clee, Legal Advisor. Also in attendance were Ryan Neve, Director Communications and Stakeholder Engagement, ARIT, Giovina D’Alessandro, Executive Director, ARIT, and Caroline Heske, Senior Policy Lawyer, Solicitor for the Northern Territory.

During the meeting it became clear that Riley and ARIT’s position is that local liquor stores are the cause of alcohol related harm in the community and that NT liquor retailers are in for “one hell of a fight to survive”.

The two main concerns for LSA NT are the recommendation of the physical separation of groceries and alcohol in stores and a 15 per cent cap on alcohol sales.

If these measures are imposed then a large number of small businesses would be rendered unviable and forced to close.

Terry Mott, the CEO of the Australian Liquor Stores Association (ALSA) told TheShout that the “critical thing here is that it’s an unsubstantiated view that licensed stores are causing harm compared to other licenses.”

He said: “There is no evidence that suggests or unequivocally demonstrates that licensed stores are the problem. The evidence we’re aware of refers to takeaway packaged (liquor) and that could have come from a bottle shop attached to a pub, it could have come from a licensed takeaway liquor outlet of any make, shape or size.

“If it’s based on anecdotal evidence that someone has told the commission about or told Mr Riley about then we would like to see that evidence but at this stage they have not produced anything that demonstrates one form of license being more responsible than another.”

Riley has proposed the measure which says, ‘Takeaway liquor only be permitted to be sold from a standalone business in which the primary focus of the business is the sale of alcohol.’

That regulatory proposal would force licensed stores to convert part of their existing hybrid food, grocery and liquor outlet in local shopping hubs, to have a separate takeaway packaged licensed area. This would in many cases force smaller stores to close up their entire business, without any resultant change in drinking behaviour.

Riley has also proposed that supermarkets should only be allowed to make 15 per cent of total sales from the sale of alcoholic beverages.

LSA NT is waiting on the ARIT team to provide information regarding where the 15 per cent ancillary figure came from, but during the meeting Riley pointed to the fact that sometime in the 1990’s the then President of LSA NT provided that figure to Government as a “fair figure”.

But there was no mention of the fact that due to excise laws, alcohol prices have increased twice a year since 1990 and groceries are not subject to the same excise laws.

Mott told TheShout that imposing a 15 per cent cap is “unworkable, impractical and meaningless in the overall scheme in the way these businesses operate”.

He said: “If they impose a 15 per cent cap on alcohol beverages sales related to the overall sales of the store that would likely cripple the viability of many of these businesses which are often the focal point of local shopping precincts.

“The move threatens to have a significantly detrimental impact on surrounding small and also mostly family operated local shopping hubs that rely on a mix of businesses to draw their customer base and as one key component operation closes, the viability of the rest are increasingly challenged due to reduced patronage.”

In an article written for the July issue of National Liquor News, Mott said it is disappointing to see governments “reacting to unsubstantiated media hype or deliberate mis-information from the temperance advocacy movement”.

He said: “The last decade has seen a number of those examples by governments which have failed to achieve the intended outcomes, by focusing only on the industry and not the underlying behavioural problems of a minority of people, including the recently reversed restrictions that were originally placed on NSW licensees in February 2014. The then O’Farrell government ignored the five-year blueprint for NSW liquor policy, that had been developed over the previous two years and had a ‘knee-jerk’ responded to media pressure with a raft of unproven policy responses.

“Inexplicably, the NT government appears to be going down a similar path right now, by reacting without any known or publicly scrutinised evidence, to be planning the demise of the licensed store (grocery and liquor mixed business) category.

“The NT government are proposing to phase out those mostly small family operated licensed store class of liquor licence over the next seven years.  They have also advised they will place impossible to achieve conditions on them, that would make the majority immediately unviable and to achieve what?

“This is also despite that type of licence being a feature of the licensed liquor outlet landscape across half of the geography of Australia and over 60 per cent of our population incorporating NSW, VIC, the ACT and NT in addition to other countries like New Zealand, nearly all of Europe, the USA, South America and Asia.

“The move threatens to have a significantly detrimental impact on surrounding small and also mostly family operated local shopping hubs that rely on a mix of businesses to draw their customer base and as one key component operation closes, the viability of the rest are increasingly challenged due to reduced patronage.

“ALSA will be working to encourage the NT Government to listen to all of their stakeholders and use publicly available, evidence based advice, to genuinely engage with the industry in the interests of giving all law-abiding Territorians a fair go.”