Good health? First Australian federal territory to impose minimum price for alcohol

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Health experts and industry bodies are divided over the impact. ©iStock
Health experts and industry bodies are divided over the impact. ©iStock

Related tags Alcoholic beverage

Australia’s Northern Territory will become the first jurisdiction in the country to set a minimum price for alcohol, in a move that has been welcomed by health experts but is likely to face a backlash from industry.

The state government has ruled to impose a $1.30 floor price per standard drink for all alcoholic beverages. It had been recommended that it be set at $1.50.

When the plans were first mooted in October last year, as part of the wide-ranging Riley Review into the alcohol abuse crisis in the territory, industry trade body Alcohol Beverages Australia said recommendations such as minimum pricing and restrictions on advertising merely punished responsible drinkers and would not work to drive down alcohol misuse.

Executive Director Fergus Taylor said: “The proposed pricing, promotion and availability measures won’t stop the alcohol abuse the Government is sensibly trying to tackle, but instead will punish the vast majority of Territorians who drink responsibly, hitting them with unfair price rises, sanctions on their businesses and impacts on their freedoms.

“Banning discounts, raising the prices Territorians pay for their drinks and reducing their choice of where they can buy them is not the answer to the problems of alcohol misuse.

Whatever the cost

“Minimum pricing ideas have been historically based on the now-disproven assumption that heavy drinkers will reduce consumption if prices rise. Australian and international evidence shows minimum pricing policies have failed, because those who misuse alcohol don’t just stop when the price goes up, and will often pay whatever it costs to keep drinking.”

The moves will see the minimum price for a bottle of wine stand at around $9. Officials plan to introduce the measures by July.

The Riley review found territory had the highest per-capita rate of alcohol consumption in Australia, one of the highest in the world, and the highest rate of hospitalisations due to alcohol misuse.

The measures have today been welcomed by health experts, with Professor Jake Najman from the University of Queensland saying in one legislative move the Northern Territory  had “leapt over all other states to deal with one of the largest problems we confront in the field, the massive discounting of alcohol.”

“This legislation will particularly affect heavy drinkers of cheap wines… a target group with the worst alcohol-related health,”​ he said.

First, but not last?

Meanwhile, Julia Stafford, an Executive Officer at the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth at Curtin University said the measures would pay dividends.

"Within Australia, it is very encouraging that the Northern Territory Government is moving ahead with a floor price, and it’s also being actively considered in Western Australia,”​ she said.

“As the price of alcohol increases, drinking reduces, including for heavy drinkers. Minimum pricing is expected to have the greatest impact on heavy drinkers because heavier drinkers tend to buy cheaper alcohol, and more of it, compared to lighter drinkers.

“Moderate drinkers will only be minimally, if at all, affected by a minimum price. Young people are particularly sensitive to the price of alcohol, so price controls, such as minimum pricing, are likely to contribute to preventing harm from alcohol among young people as well as the broader community.”

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