Territorians deserve a robust, open and transparent review

20 August, 2020 by Deborah Jackson

With the NT Election now a matter of days away, attention has turned to the NT’s three major political parties and what Territorians can expect over the next four years in exchange for their vote.

One of the most contentious issues throughout the last term of the NT Parliament has been the Government’s alcohol-related policy reforms, and in particular around Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) – the $1.30 per drink ‘floor price’ put on alcohol products sold in the NT. The MUP was specifically put in place to help address harmful alcohol consumption across the Territory and doing so with minimal effect on moderate consumers of alcohol.

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For anyone to suggest that MUP has been successful to date in addressing harmful consumption and reducing alcohol-related harm would be premature at best, particularly given the fact that it was introduced at the same time as a raft of other alcohol-related policies as suggested by the Riley Review.

Doubt was cast on MUP in the 12-month evaluation report published earlier this year which stated that it is ‘impossible to distinguish’ whether MUP had been effective or not over this period. This report, as Retail Drinks pointed out at the time, was inconsistent and inadequate, particularly as it relied on wholesale data which won’t be released until after this Saturday’s election.

A recent NT Government study found that between 2010 and 2017, per capita annual consumption (litres of alcohol consumed) decreased by an average of 2.1 per cent per year. However, independent analysis of packaged (retail) liquor sales in the NT over the first 12 months of MUP showed that the average per capita consumption of alcohol actually increased – even after accounting for population growth. Another unintended consequence has been a significant reported increase in crime, breaks-in, theft and aggression from customers towards staff in our members’ stores since MUP came into effect.

What has also been overlooked in recent commentary on MUP is that there is a legislated review due to take place at the three-year mark. How can you claim the MUP to be a success when this three-year review process is yet to happen and the only review to date said that its effects are “impossible to distinguish”? Territorians deserve to know whether the MUP has been successful through a robust, open and transparent process rather than be told so without sufficient evidence.

Retail Drinks supports evidence-based, targeted measures to address alcohol-related issues, not ‘whole of population’ blanket measures that only serve to penalise the vast majority of Territorians who consume alcohol responsibly.

We would urge the winner of this Saturday’s election to ensure that the three-year review of MUP is an open and transparent process, subject to a proper tender, and that the data being relied on is then released for public scrutiny. Until this Review has happened, it is too early to make wide-reaching statements about the MUP’s success and for political parties to rely on uncertain conclusions.

This opinion piece was written by Michael Waters, the Acting CEO of Retail Drinks Australia.