OPINION: Support your industry associations

03 August, 2018 by Deborah Jackson

This column was submitted by Terry Mott, the outgoing CEO of the Australian Liquor Stores Association, for the August issue of National Liquor News

Alcohol beverages is a fantastic and rewarding industry that does get under the skin. People who have worked in the industry for any reasonable length of time have a pride in what they do and are likely to feel troubled when advocacy groups who are pushing their own agendas (and their own careers) attempt to influence the public health and alcohol policy debate with dodgy science.

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Their mantra has a consistent theme and usually starts with the premise that they will recommend the three pillars – even if the evidence only partially supports, or in some cases with the caveats, refutes those recommendations:

  1. Restrict supply and availability by reducing the number of liquor licences or the operating hours;
  2. Increase the retail price of alcohol beverage products through additional taxes and of course
  3. Ban advertising and promotion (including sponsorship).

We see examples in some papers where without any evidence, conclusions and recommendations are drawn which don’t stack up with the findings of the paper.

It really is important that all those involved in the industry do treat these seriously and work together to challenge these not insignificant claims – don’t leave it to someone else to fix.

In this very challenging policy and media environment it remains critical for the silent majority of the almost 16 million adult drinkers in our communities to be represented and heard along with the hundreds of thousands of employees whose jobs are dependent on or underpinned across our industry sectors.

The need to join, support and contribute to the debate in industry associations has never been more important, as they provide an opportunity to get involved, to learn, understand, to have your say and to reap the return of defending the rights of that silent majority of law abiding drinkers, while also reinforcing the future viability for your business. Your business operation tomorrow may well depend on what you put in now and you only get the full benefit in return if you also contribute. Like most things in life, ‘if you put nothing in – expect to get little out in return’.

Association membership is more than the immediate dollar saving benefits from member benefits, services and reduced operating costs – your participation may be vitally important to keep operating and may also influence the very survival of your business.

Industry responsibility is also a must for all operators and even the best operators are dragged down by the weakest link and ‘tarred with the same brush’. A big challenge for all licensees and for the industry as a whole, is to help identify and encourage better practices or help weed out those operators who do the wrong thing, irrespective of whether you operate a licensed pub, liquor store, bar, nightclub, cafe or restaurant.

We have seen the expert panel who conducted the recent Review of the Northern Territory Liquor Act, now recommending to the NT Government to eliminate one whole class of liquor licence. Their recommendation is supposedly due to lax retailing practices by a few NT licensees, resulting in poor behaviour by some customers.

This is putting into jeopardy many small NT family businesses who have responsibly and ethically run their stores for many years. They are now all being blamed for the actions of those few bad eggs, compounded by the government’s inability to enforce existing licensing regulations. If that law enforcement had been applied over the last decade or two, they should have modified those behaviours, or weeded out any dodgy operators.

There are exciting opportunities ahead for ALSA, our members and the overall industry to work together to collectively challenge with solid evidence, the myths often pedalled around alcohol consumption and to focus the attention of regulators on targeted policies designed to deal with the problem where it occurs – to really make a difference.

So please support your industry association as the intrinsic value is the lobbying, business advocacy, stakeholder engagement and communication that are the cornerstone of creating a route to market not only for retailers, but also for producers and marketers of the fine products our ALSA members support and sell to their customers.