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Hearing told higher costs won’t curb alcohol abuse

Increasing the price of alcohol will not curb alcohol misuse because problem drinkers are “price inelastic”, a public hearing has been told.

Liquor outlets say there is no compelling evidence to show MUP for alcohol will tackle problem drinking

Speakers on behalf of Woolworths Liquor Group, the Distilled Spirits Industry, Brewers Association of Australia and the Winemakers Federation of Australia spoke before a parliamentary committee on Indigenous Affairs about action they are taking to engage with Indigenous communities to reduce alcohol consumption.

Headed by Dr Sharman Stone, the committee was founded by Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion earlier this year in an effort to try and combat rising levels of alcohol-related hospital admissions.

On Thursday, alcohol stores were asked to present their disagreements with the notion that increasing the price of alcohol would lower consumption levels.

Andrew Wilsmore, Woolworths Liquor Group manager of public affairs, explained there was no compelling case that price changes were directly responsible for reductions in alcohol consumption.

“The challenge with the minimum price policy is that reduction will largely come from moderate drinkers,” he said, as reported by ABC News. “The ones where you are actually trying to reduce harm – which is your harmful consumers – are reasonably price inelastic.

“We see it already in cases with sly groggers in the NT. People are willing to pay AU$700 for a bottle of spirits.”

When grilled by Dr Stone over why alcohol stores were not reducing alcohol supplies in areas prone to problem drinkers.

In response, Andrew Thomas, head of government relations for Woolworths, explained the company had in fact imposed restrictions in 70 of its stores in remote communities, including reduced trading hours and restrictions on promotions.

“Obviously our aim is to service our customers as best we can, but we will take into account what the broader community concerns and interests are,” Thomas added.

Furthermore, the companies suggested that by removing one type of alcohol through higher prices would simply redirect problem drinkers to other forms of alcohol.

Last week, Northern Ireland’s health minister, Jim Wells, announced plans to implement a minimum unit pricing policy on alcohol in the country.

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