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Friday Forum: The Alcohol Debate – your view

Has demonising ever solved any problem? On May 9, we asked Daily Wine News subscribers to engage in our Friday Forum on the alcohol debate. The Rudd Government has signalled its intentions to use increased tax as a means it believes will reduce the problem of alcohol abuse in the community. What should industry do to combat the crescendo of anti-alcohol sentiment that is rising in Australia? Do we have an appropriate communication strategy in place to reinforce our message of 'wine in moderation'? Here is a sample of the responses we received. To have your say: email ">e

‘Abuse’ the wrong word I question the wording of ‘Alcohol Abuse’ is this merely a secondary issue to a possible ‘drug’ and then ‘alcohol’ mixture for young people? As drugs in the retail sector are not public, and alcohol is, hence why Governments tend to just fix it by ‘let’s tax it more, or what is seen…alcohol’ as it seems to be in night clubs, and late night young people issues. I would like to try and make the words ‘alcohol’ refer to heavy spirits and RTD's first, way before ‘WINE’. I remember getting drunk and yes still do, but when I was young, it was placed in my head to always have food in my stomach first before drinking medium or heavy, and drink water. I think that it is also an issue for young people, not eating correctly, resulting in empty stomachs, intake of heavy spirits or RTD's huge sugar levels, and ultimately creating intoxicated people vomiting, media, arrests, papers, TV and so on, a very bad image, again for the alcohol industry. So should the wine industry suffer purely because of lack of education and abuse of the wording ‘ALCOHOL’? The wine industry is a form of ART, not heavy spirits, energy supplements, sugar, and pretty-coloured labels. Adam Chapman Chief winemaker Sirromet Wines Pty Ltd

Licensed premises need to be part of solution By far the majority of binge drinking, and the subsequent irresponsible behaviour, stems from mainly younger people drinking to excess at licensed premises. Responsible service of alcohol is not being policed properly by either the staff engaged in the industry or the police. This needs to change! Most of the major public problems have arisen with the legislative changes that have resulted in greatly extended trading hours for many licensed venues. The AHA appears to have had the ear of the State Government in NSW for many years and trading hours have been increased to ridiculous levels. Why not trial 11pm closing during the week and Sunday nights with 1am closing time on Saturday night/Sunday morning? This should be done in conjunction with a crackdown on drinking in public places! Do the trial and see the results! If it works, as I am certain it will, then make it permanent. We know all too well the problems in Newcastle where a curfew and closedown have already been introduced in response to drunken, violent, loutish behaviour. The publicans are crying like stuck pigs but offer no solutions themselves to the problems created! Australia already has one of the highest taxed alcohol industries in the world so how effective will it be increasing them? Wine would surely be the most under-represented form of alcohol associated with binge drinking, why should it be burdened with higher taxes? Thank you for the opportunity to voice my views. Ken Sloan Mistletoe Wines Pokolbin NSW

I’m off to Hong Kong By a short visit to my website you’ll see my role in the wine industry. Add to that, I am a life-long wine drinker, as opposed to a bear swiller or spirit snogger. I think wine is taxed too much already. When John Howard campaigned on the introduction of a GST I was under the impression that all sales taxes would be replaced by it. Not so. We got 29% WET. Interestingly, Hong Kong has just removed the tax completely on wine & beer. Wine consumption by the 19–29 age group has declined in France since 1990. Could this have anything to do with their policy on advertising especially events outdoor such as football, horse racing, motor racing etc. In Australia we have the ‘Fosters’ Melbourne Cup. The Fosters AFL Grand Final. Then some other booze company at every sporting event you can mention. Ever since the ban on cigarette advertising, the booze companies have moved in. It’s on every bus, inside and out. Trams, trains bus & train-waiting shelters & platforms. It’s in your face. Young people especially tend to be very impressionable, hence they flock like lemmings to the nearest fix product to experience the wonderful effects… Damn the after effects. Looks like I’ll be considering flying regularly to Hong Kong to partake of my favourite top drop. Pity the thousands of people all over the country who depend on the wine industry for their very livelihood. I yearn for the license laws to be changed in NSW to allow a quiet wine bar with atmosphere, and without poker machines, horse, dog & other events blaring so you can’t hear yourself think. We could of course have a double dissolution and throw out the current lot before they do any serious damage Dennis Colquitt www.flagshipwines.com

Tax isn’t the answer Surely we must look at this as a community responsibility, and invest in serious education for the emerging market who partake of the poptart product. Taxing is not the answer, They, the emerging market, will move to the next best thing, other elicit drugs cheaper and more readily available. The wine industry brings in so much for Australia, not only in $$$ for exporters, but also in terms of credibility on a world wide stage. Tourism? It supports whole communities, and regions, who will suffer massive haemorrhaging if this proceeds. Is the Government really concerned with the big picture, or is it only looking at the increase in revenue? Simon McLaren Vale

Raising taxes not the solution It is controlled by ‘Peer Group Pressure’ the best; I have seen it in France but it is non-existent in Australia. Our easy-going culture is caching up with us! Increasing taxes too much will drive in underground, home brew etc will take over. Just ask Finland monopoly: in 1992 there was a forum at tech conference or was it 1996 @ Wine Australia, where a person from the Finnish Monopoly professed that they had 42% of the alcohol market; because their taxes were too high! They still had huge alcohol problems and may still have! Ideologies in the new Government are testing their theory; will it work? Time is on their side? But first they are going to shock us with taxes on alcohol, eg Cask wine, and probably follow the UK model. Remember casks are about 50% of all wine sold in Australia, and if it comes in from Chile and Argentina the big boys are still making good margin. The Government will want a share; that is clear. Well it is up to us to declare moderation/responsibility as peer group pressure in reducing abuse. It is the frontier like quitting smoking in bars/buses/hotels/sports ground. Can anyone remember the behaviour at football grounds 30 years ago? It was disgusting and it has been cleaned up thank God. Abhorrent behaviour is just that; we all own the problem Get used to it! Leigh Victoria

No need for 'knee jerk' reaction Raising the tax on a product won't necessarily reduce purchasing of that product. This is an example of a knee jerk reaction from an authority who has not fully considered the "opportunity" to solve what will be a long-term problem if they remain inert. It's another example of responding either positively or negatively to the lowest common denominator to the detriment of the majority and the relevant industry. The only way to solve the problem is to work at it on a long-term basis with education, enforcement of licensing regulations at venues which permit uncontrolled consumption. This should of course be supplemented with sterner policing of drunkenness in public. Extracting data from offenders should then bolster cases for prosecuting irresponsible venues. John Essendon.

Tony Keys, author of the online The Key Report, responded to the Forum with a more detailed look at the editorial opinion provided. Keys’ comments are below, with Grapegrower & Winemaker’s editorial view, published in the Friday Forum on May 9, in italics.

More than 95% of the population consume wine responsibly. Will the Australian wine industry allow the Government, and its advisors, to set the agenda for wine consumption in a manner geared to regulate irresponsible behaviour from the 5%?

The Australian wine industry is not that powerful and I think you miss the point as wine is alcohol and will get caught up in whatever issues alcohol face, the Key Report has been writing about this for around four years. It has been coming just the ‘wine’ industry think it doesn’t apply to them but the RTD makers, they are wrong.

From Directions 2025: “Wine is increasingly being recognised as a natural product offering health benefits when consumed moderately, but the wine sector cannot ignore the reality that it is an alcoholic beverage and there is increasing concern about the social and physical consequences of excessive alcohol consumption.”

Big danger in assuming wine is a healthy product even with the moderation rider. Wine is alcohol the damage alcohol does is far greater then the good. The industry had better get out of this mindset.

It is interesting that in 1996 the Strategy 2025 used three variables to differentiate wine from other alcohol beverages: NATURE, HEALTH and FOOD. These three variables remain, but is industry making enough noise about them in efforts to combat the anti-alcohol lobby of 2008?

As above it would be extremely irresponsible other then a fully qualified medical expert to talk about the benefits of alcohol I repeat it does more harm the good in regard to health. However in regard to enjoyment, and social intercourse it is unbeatable.

There are limits on the active promotion of the health benefits of wine, however, one of the core drivers of consumption growth in the USA is said to be ‘health benefits’.

I do not believe that in the US it is still a health benefit. It was, it’s not so much now it’s fading. It is a health benefit in Asia but then cigarettes are still on the up still socially acceptable still advertised. We can say it, we can blow the ‘in moderation’ trumpet but we cannot devoice wine from alcohol.

As the front page headlines rolled out in late April, industry was caught flat-footed. Where was the leadership, the single ‘same song-book’ strategy, that gave wine the opportunity to promote its place in the social arena — NATURE, HEALTH, FOOD — while the anti-alcohol bullets were being fired?

The reality is binge drinking along with a great deal of other health damage. NATURE, HEALTH, FOOD will not work.

There’s the perception the wine industry is on the back foot.

Because they insist it’s the problem of RTD etc. not wine but when reform or higher tax comes in wine will not be exempt said it all before and a lot more in TKR over the past four years.

The Winemakers’ Federation of Australia was forced to defend itself after an ABC news report indicated the WFA had “conceded to the inevitability of higher taxes on wine”. Chief executive Stephen Strachan then came on the record the next day to “confirm the WFA is in fact actively lobbying against a change to current wine taxation, and is strongly opposed to any tax increases”.

Strachan quite rightly said wine like anything else could face tax increases in the next budget, the ABC put a twist on it.

The EU producers have prepared a broad communications plan that sets a leadership agenda for the wine industry on its social responsibilities: Wine in moderation: art de vivre (part of life). The information within the full communications plan is huge and we encourage readers to visit www.wineinmoderation.eu to view for themselves.

Australian wine needs to set its own communications strategy, to make sure we have an answer on the alcohol debate both now and in the future, as the Rudd Government could not have more clearly stated its agenda, than in the course it has laid out during April.

Part of life is good but stay away from health and to keep harping on about in moderation implies there is a dangerous element to it. This issue has been a long time coming it’s going to be around for the next few years with the next two being very hard. What will the industry do? Set up a task force, what will the task force do? Come to the same conclusions after six months a group of us could come to around the table in a morning. What will be the result? Rather like Directions to 2025 a lot of nothing.



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