NSW government documents obtained by the Greens show that the liquor retailers’ lobby group, Coles and Woolworths were allowed to severely weaken the guidelines for alcohol promotion.
While the alcohol industry was given more than a year to interfere with the revision of the Liquor Promotion Guidelines, including direct access to key public servants, public health groups and the community were kept in the dark and denied any opportunity to comment, according to Greens NSW MP John Kaye.
‘Government bows to liquor industry on discounts’, Sun Herald, 14 July, pages 1 and 4
Dr Kaye said: “Successive drafts were substantially weakened to suit the commercial interests of the bottle shop owners and, in particular, Coles and Woolworths.
“The O’Farrell government’s Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing initially proposed a ban on promotions involving ‘discounts of greater than 50 percent off the normal retail price’.
“However lobbying by Woolworths, Coles and their peak body, the Liquor Store Association (LSA), successfully caused the embargo to be dumped and replaced with a much less restrictive requirement that harm minimisation measures be applied to this kind of promotion.
“The LSA and Woolworths argued that the purchase of larger quantities of alcohol as a result of a price discount does not lead to greater consumption. Relying on an analogy to breakfast cereal and toilet paper, the industry effectively denied that alcohol has addictive and habit-forming properties and delivers a pleasure reward that encourages abuse.
“Lobbying by the liquor stores also achieved a general escape clause to be inserted at a number of key locations in the document. Provisions of the draft Guidelines now “[recognise] that there may be variability in how this principle applied depending on [the outlet’s] business model”. In effect a retailer would be able to argue that the principle was not relevant to their particular promotion.
“While public health groups and the community were kept in the dark, the O’Farrell government gave the liquor store lobby access to successive drafts of the guidelines and the bureaucrats responsible for the revisions. The result has been changes that substantially weaken the restrictions on promotions and price discounting.
“The opportunity to respond to the evidence of the impacts of alcohol promotions on young people has been subverted by the industry.
“The documents show that industry lobbying successfully undermined key provisions in the state’s rules on promotions of alcohol. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the impacts of cost on unsafe drinking, Coles and Woolworths will be able to discount by more than 50 percent off the normal retail price.
“Claims by Coles that they were not aware of any conclusive evidence linking price and promotions to alcohol related harm went unchallenged.
“The Liquor Store Association got away with suggesting that because cut-price toilet paper does not lead to dangerous overuse, discounting alcohol would not result in excessive or rapid consumption.
“The O’Farrell government’s behind-closed-doors process was biased by the exclusive access given to the industry. Lobbying by Coles, Woolworths and the Liquor Stores Association has produced outcomes that maximise their opportunities to sell more of their goods while ignoring the evidence of the relationship between alcohol discounting and promotions and dangerous consumption.
“If the O’Farrell government is to escape the claim that the big retailers have been allowed to rewrite the state’s guidelines to suit their own profit objectives, Minister George Souris should go back to the August 2012 guidelines and put them out for public consultation.
“With the Premier’s former chief-of-staff about to take up a senior appointment with Woolworths it is unlikely that there will be much progress towards guidelines that limit the social harm that alcohol promotions and discounting can create.
“The latest draft of the Guidelines are a testament to the political power of the retailers and in particular Coles and Woolworths. Reducing alcohol-related harms plays second fiddle to the supermarket chains in Premier Barry O’Farrell’s NSW,” Dr Kaye said.
For more information: John Kaye 0407 195 455