Excise Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009
Customs Tariff Amendment (2009) Measures No. 1) Bill 2009
On 12 February 2009 the Senate referred the provisions of the Excise
Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 and the Customs Tariff
Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 to the Community Affairs Committee
for inquiry and report by 13 March 2009. The reporting date was subsequently
extended to 16 March 2009.
In addition to the provisions of the Bills, the Committee was asked to
consider the following matter:
The impact of the tax on ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages, the
so-called ‘alcopops’ tax, since its introduction on 27 April 2008, with particular reference to:
the revenues raised under the alcopops tax measure;
substitution effects flowing from the alcopops tax
in consumption patterns of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages by sex and age
group following the introduction of the alcopops tax;
in consumption patterns of all alcoholic beverages by sex and age group
following the introduction of the alcopops tax;
unintended consequences flowing from the introduction of the alcopops tax, such
as the development of so-called ‘malternatives’ (beer-based ready-to-drink
of the effectiveness of the Government’s changes to the alcohol excise regime
in reducing the claims of excessive consumption of ready-to-drink alcohol
evidence of changes to at risk behaviour or health impacts (either positive or
negative) as a result of the introduction of the alcopops tax;
of the predicted effects of the introduction of the alcopops tax, with the data
of actual effects, with a particular focus on evidence (or lack thereof)
collected by the relevant department; and
value of evidence-based decision-making in the taxation of alcoholic products.
The motion to refer the Bills also provided that in conducting the
inquiry, the Committee must take evidence from a range of specifically named organisations.
The Committee received 20 submissions relating to the Bills and the additional
terms of reference. These are listed at Appendix 1. The Committee considered
the Bills at two public hearings in Canberra on 10 and 11 March 2009. Details of the public hearings are listed in Appendix 2. The submissions
and Hansard transcripts of evidence may be accessed through the Committee’s
website at http://www.aph.gov.au/senate_ca.
The purpose of the Bills is to confirm the government's decision to
increase the excise and customs duty on the beverages commonly known as
ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs) or 'alcopops'. On 27 April 2008, the excise rate on such beverages was increased from $39.36 to $66.67 per litre of alcohol
The Excise Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 will amend
the schedule to the Excise Tariff Act 1921 (ETA 1921) to confirm the
2008 increase in the excise rate applying to 'other excisable beverages not
exceeding 10 per cent by volume of alcohol', which includes RTDs and alcopops.
The Customs Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 amends the Customs
Tariff Act 1995 (CTA 1995). These changes are complementary to the
amendments contained in the Excise Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill
2009. The amendments will confirm the 2008 increase to the excise-equivalent
component of the customs duty on RTDs and alcopops.
The EM to the Bills states that the measures will produce an ongoing
gain to revenue of $1.6 billion from 27 April 2008 over the forward estimates
On 26 April 2008 the government gazetted increases to the excise and
customs tariff for RTDs and alcopops. The effect of this was that on and from 27 April 2008 the relevant rates were increased from $39.36 to $66.67 per litre of
The excise and customs tariff proposals were subsequently tabled in the
House of Representatives on 13 May 2008. At that time the Minister for Health
and Ageing, the Hon. Nicola Roxon, stated that the government had increased the
tariffs in order to 'close an existing loophole on the excise on alcopops',
and 'put them on the same footing' as full-strength spirits.
This loophole arose from a decision in 2000 to tax RTDs at a rate similar to
that applied to full-strength beer'
rather than at the rate applied to full-strength spirits.
The increase was also presented as 'part of the government's strategy to
tackle the harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption—particularly by young
people attracted to these products'.
The government has consistently identified the changes as being part of its
broader strategy to deal with this issue, the National Binge Drinking Strategy,
which contains a number of complementary measures.
The increases have been operative since 27 April 2008 and must be retrospectively validated by legislation within 12 months. This is the usual
procedure for excise and customs tariff amendments, as it ensures that
'windfall profits may not be made between the time of the announcement and the
enactment of legislation to levy the duties'.
The Bills were introduced to the House of Representatives on 11 February 2009 and passed on 25 February 2009. The last available sitting date for the
Bills validating the tax increase to be agreed to by the Senate is 19 March 2009.
Previous inquiries into RTDs and the
Alcohol Toll Reduction Bill
Following the tax increase in 2008 the Committee conducted inquiries
into ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages and the Alcohol Toll Reduction Bill
2007 , a private member's bill introduced to the Senate by Senator Stephen
Fielding on 19 September 2008. These inquiries provide some important
context for the current inquiry. In particular, the RTD inquiry found:
risky and high-risk drinking by young people and underage
drinkers, particularly young women, has become a major public health issue;
in recent years there has been a rise in the popularity and
influence of pre-mixed alcohols, known as RTDs or 'alcopops' on teenage alcohol
use, particularly for young females; and
RTD beverages are a popular and commonly first-used beverage
among younger age groups.
The Committee notes, however, that the terms of the inquiry which go
beyond a consideration of the provisions of the bills are relatively narrow in
that that they direct the Committee to examine just the effect of the excise
and customs duty increases since 27 April 2008. Nevertheless, the Committee
received much evidence during this inquiry that reinforced the evidence and
conclusions of the previous inquiries.
Terminology used in the report
This report adopts certain terminology, largely consistent with the
Committee's 2008 report into ready-to-drink alcohol beverages.
For the purposes of this report a young person is defined as being
between 12 and 25 years of age.
RTDs and alcopops
There is no clear definition of the term 'alcopop', and the term RTD
covers any pre-mixed beverage including spirit-based RTDs, cider,
fruit-flavoured wines and fruit flavoured beers.
There is also a distinction made between dark spirit-based RTDs such as whisky,
rum and bourbon, generally preferred by males, and light spirit-based RTDs such
as vodka, gin and white rum, generally preferred by females.
The Committee notes that RTDs are commonly known as 'alcopops' and that
the term is generally understood to mean a premixed drink which is part spirit
or wine and part non-alcoholic drink such as milk or soft drink. This report
will generally use the term RTD to refer to all ready-to-drink beverages,
including alcopops. Reference to particular mixes of RTD will be clarified as
Binge-drinking and risky and
In the inquiry into RTDs, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
(AIHW) submitted that there is no agreed definition of the term 'binge
drinking', which can mean either excessive consumption on a single occasion or
a prolonged period of drinking. Accordingly, the AIHW preferred the language
used in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines, which
used the terms 'risky' and 'high-risk' drinking.
The Committee acknowledges that 'binge drinking' is a commonly used and
understood term. However, recognising that 'binge drinking' is avoided as
ill-defined and unclear in official health publications, this report adopts
the terms 'risky' and 'high-risk' drinking where relevant.
For the purposes of the inquiry, these terms may be understood as relating
to the short- and long-term harms to health and well-being that result from
exceeding the NHMRC's recommended daily levels of alcohol. Short-term risks are
those arising from occasional drinking episodes confined on a single day, such
as violence, accidents and alcohol poisoning. Long-term risks are those arising
from regular and repeated daily drinking, such as cancer, liver damage and
diabetes. 'Risky' levels of drinking involve a greatly increased risk of harm.
High-risk' levels of drinking involve a high risk of serious harm and rapidly
increasing levels of risk.
Impact of the alcopops tax measure
Nature of the evidence considered
by the Committee
The Committee notes that there is only limited data available to
consider the impact of the RTDs tax measure since its introduction in April
2008. As noted by the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), what
evidence is available is difficult to interpret given the limited information
and time since the introduction of the tax measures.
Ascertaining the effect of the measures is also made more difficult by other
factors, such as the proactive responses of the alcohol industry in developing
and promoting alternative products able to readily substitute for RTDs.
As with the Committee's previous inquiries into RTDs and the Alcohol Toll
Reduction Bill, the significance of the available evidence was strongly
contested by the stakeholders in the debate. In general terms, the increase to
the excise and customs duty was supported by public health and drug experts on
the grounds that it would help to reduce risky drinking among young Australians,
reduce their exposure to alcohol and lead to positive health outcomes. These
bodies tended to emphasise prior research and experience, and to interpret more
recent data, as supporting the view that price or tax increases are effective
to reduce levels of alcohol consumption, and that reduced consumption
meaningfully relates to reduced levels of alcohol-related harm.
Opposition to the increase to the excise and customs duty generally came
from the alcohol industry, such as the industry representative bodies and
producer groups, who tended to favour evidence and views that questioned the
effectiveness of price increases in reducing consumption, and highlighted the
role of substitution in undermining price-increase approaches to reducing
Submitters across a range of interests voiced their support for a form
of volumetric tax, and many offered explicit support for a review of
Australia's alcohol taxation regime by the Australia's Future Tax System
(Henry) Review, announced by the Treasurer on 13 May 2008. The Committee notes
that the taxation of alcohol falls within the terms of reference for the review,
which will examine the issue of enhancing the taxation arrangements on
consumption, including excise taxes. The review is due to report at the end of
2009. Mr Scott Wilson, Deputy Chairperson, Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation
Foundation, advised the Committee that his organisation, along with nearly 20
other community organisations, had made a joint submission to the Henry review.
The Committee notes that health organisations supported a volumetric tax
with the flexibility to address 'loopholes' or specific types of beverages
where they were associated with particular harms or problems.
Professor Tanya Chikritzhs, who appeared before the Committee in a private
...what also needs to go with that is a volumetric tax at the base.
That forms the basis for making the basic calculations. However, as we know
from the literature, not all beverages are equal in the amount of harm that they
are likely to be associated with. So, as has been done here, a special harm
levy or harm tax needs to be placed on beverages that are known to be
specifically risky for certain populations.
Sources of data
A number of sources of evidence were relied on by submitters and
witnesses. The sources below represent the evidence most discussed in
submissions and at the hearings held in Canberra on 10 and 11 March 2008. Various other data sets and surveys were cited through the course of the inquiry, and
these are identified throughout the report where relevant.
In general terms, the Committee preferred sales and consumption data rather
than survey data as the basis for its findings in relation to the inquiry's
terms of reference. The basis of this preference was described by Professor Steven
Allsop, who appeared before the Committee in a private capacity:
...it is universally accepted that sales data are strongly and
closely aligned to consumption of alcohol and are preferable to survey data.
Survey data...are notoriously flawed in their capacity to accurately account for
consumption. Even national surveys with very large sample sizes, like the
highly regarded National Drug Strategy Household Survey...account for less than
60 to 70 per cent of alcohol known to be consumed from sales data...The reason is
that there are a number of methodological problems, including the frequently
observed phenomenon that people, either in error or deliberately, underestimate
their personal alcohol consumption.
Australian Taxation Office clearance
ATO clearance data is the amount of excisable alcohol that is entered
for consumption by importers and producers. Compared to the same period in
2007, the clearance figures for the period May to September 2008 show:
a 34.6 per cent decrease in alcopops clearances;
a 17 per cent increase in full-strength spirit clearances;
a 7.9 per cent decrease in total spirit clearances (RTDs plus
full-strength spirits); and
a 6.1 per cent increase in beer consumption.
The ATO figures also show that growth in excisable alcohol consumption
(beer, spirits and RTDs) has slowed by 0.1 per cent since the increase excise
on RTDs, for the period May 2008 to January 2009 compared with the previous
year (it should be noted that these figures do not include wine sales, which
the AC Nielsen figures show decreased for the period covered by that data). By
comparison, the previous three years recorded 'solid' growth in excisable
Liquor Services Group data
AC Nielsen Liquor Services Group data showed the number of standard
drinks consumed in May to July for the years 2007 and 2008 by beverage type.
a 26.1 per cent decrease in consumption of RTDs (equivalent to 91
million standard drinks);
a 1.5 per cent increase in consumption of beer (equivalent to 13
million standard drinks);
a 2.6 per cent decrease in consumption of wine (equivalent to 21
million standard drinks); and
an 11.2 per cent increase in consumption of spirits (equivalent
to 35 million standard drinks).
Across all beverage types the Nielsen figures show a 2.7 per cent
decrease in consumption (equivalent to 64 million standard drinks).
The Committee notes that the AC Nielsen data provides the most complete
picture of consumption and is widely used and accepted by industry.
AC Nielsen ScanTrack data comparing the period May 2008 to January 2009
with the same period in the previous year shows:
a 29 per cent decrease in total sales of RTDs (equivalent to 310
million standard drinks);
a 24 per cent decrease in sales of RTDs with more than 6 per cent
a 31 per cent decrease in sales of RTDs with less than 6 per cent
a 38 per cent decrease in sales of vodka-based RTDs with more
than 6 per cent alcohol.
The Winemakers Federation of Australia commented on Nielsen as a data
provider in terms of suppliers and manufacturers in the alcohol industry:
Mr Strachan—In terms of the value based
data that exists in the industry, it is accepted as being the best source of
data—to my knowledge, anyway. We tend to use the ABS volume based data, but
value based data does add a dimension that you do not always get through the
volume data... From my perspective, the whole of the industry relies on those
larger companies that purchase it—relies on Nielsen data. That is a fairly
strong indication that they think it is reliable, so I would say it is the best
around and it is highly likely to be reliable.
Access Economics report
A number of submitters referred to January 2009 report by Access
Economics, 'Trends in alcohol-related hospital use by young people',
commissioned by the DSICA. The report analyses admissions to both public and
private hospitals as well as visits to emergency departments by young people
for alcohol-related diagnoses. A second report by Access Economics dated 10
March, 'Alcohol related hospital use: analysis of newly available months of
data' was provided by DSICA at the hearing.
The Committee notes that many stakeholders, particularly health experts,
strongly disputed the methodology and conclusions of the Access Economics
Revenues raised under the alcopops tax measure
Budget papers from May 2008 estimated the excise and customs duty
increase would deliver an ongoing gain to revenue of $3.1 billion over the
However, the explanatory memorandum (EM) to the bills provided a
significantly lower updated estimate of $1.6 billion over the forward
Appearing before the Committee in Canberra on 11 March 2009, Mr Colin Brown, Manager, Costing and Quantitative Analysis, Department of the
Treasury, advised the Committee on the assumptions underlying the estimates of
forward revenue arising from the measure. Mr Brown noted that, taking into account
an initial drop in demand for RTDs, the projections assumed an 'underlying rate
of growth in RTDs' that accounted for future growth in population and the
Mr Damien White, Manager, Indirect Tax Unit, Department of the Treasury,
noted current projections accounted for the ATO figures showing a reduction in
consumption of RTDs of 34.6 per cent.
Substitution effects flowing from the alcopops tax measure
In the context of the inquiry, 'substitution' refers to consumers of
RTDs moving to other, usually cheaper, alcoholic beverages in response to the
increase in the excise and customs duty. While all submitters and witnesses
agreed that some level of substitution had occurred, there was particular
disagreement as to its extent and significance.
Sources of information and views on
The main source of data cited as relevant to the question of
substitution was the ATO clearance figures for the period May to September 2008
referred to earlier.
The Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA) observed that
there is currently 'minimal data to either prove or disprove significant
However, it expressed the view that the ATO data did show that, while there was
a substitution from RTDs to full-strength spirits, total spirit consumption
fell by 334 000 litres of pure alcohol.
The ADCA also referred to data 'provided by AC Nielson ScanTrack' showing
that from January to November 2008 there was:
a 2.3 per cent decrease in the value of the dark RTD market;
a 0.2 per cent increase in the value of the light RTD market; and
an 11 per cent increase in the full-strength spirits market.
Although it cautioned that 'changes in the value of a particular product
market category cannot conclusively prove there has been a change in
consumption', ADCA considered that the Nielsen data supported the conclusion
that some substitution had occurred from RTDs to full-strength spirits. Appearing
before the Committee, Ms Melanie Walker, Health Policy Officer, PHAA, observed
that the extent of substitution did not appear to be equivalent to the fall in
consumption of RTDs:
...while the standard drinks sold as spirits and beer increased in
the three months following the introduction of the alcopops tax, the increase
represented only about 53 per cent of the 91 million fewer RTDs sold.
Independent Distillers of Australia (IDA) also provided sales data,
compiled by the Liquor Merchants Association of Australia, which attested to
increased sales of certain full-strength spirits since the tax increase.
Comparing certain product sales from May 2008 to January 2009 with the
equivalent period in the previous year, the data shows:
full-strength bourbon sales up 32.2 per cent;
full-strength dark rum sales up 31.6 per cent;
full-strength light rum sales up 8.1 per cent; and
full-strength vodka sales up 18.4 per cent.
Although IDA acknowledged that it was difficult to show perfect
statistics on substitution, its view was that 'both anecdotally and through
industry data...we can demonstrate tangible substitution from RTDs into
full-strength spirits and other beverages'. Taking into account all statistical
and anecdotal data, IDA concluded that there had been 'massive substitution'
for RTDs in the alcohol market.
The Committee received one submission that offered anecdotal evidence on
substitution from a consumer perspective. Amy Thurgood, a 22-year-old who
described herself as 'in the primary market for RTD marketer[s], described how
the tax increase had affected her consumption of RTDs, While preferring the
taste and convenience of RTDs, she considered her cheapest financial option
since the tax increase to be the purchase of full-strength spirits and mixers;
and she had observed 'many others' making the same switch.
IDA also cited a report that found an increase in beer sales following
the tax increase. A Citigroup Beverage Trends Analysis in October 2008, which
tracks manufacturer sales either direct to retail or to wholesale, reported:
Industry beer volumes have shown some sign of recovery. The strong
July performance has resulted in 1.4% volume growth over the past three months
compared to a decline over the past 12-months. This may be partly reflective of
the RTD tax hike resulting in consumers switching to beer.
However, the Committee notes that the Brewers Association of Australia
and New Zealand (BAANZ) expressed serious reservations about the ability of
such short-term data on beer deliveries to reveal general trends in consumption
(and hence substitution effects) over time.
Further, BAANZ provided figures which contradicted IDA's assertion that there
was growth in the beer market since the tax increase—beer delivery figures for
the six-month period either side of the tax increase had showed a 10.4 per cent
decrease in delivery volumes.
In relation to wine, the Winemakers' Federation of Australia (WFA)
conducted a comparison of the long-term compound growth rate of total wine
sales with the compound monthly growth rate for the eight months after the tax
increase. It concluded that, taking into account normal seasonal trends, there
was no evidence of substitution of wine for RTDs.
Factors complicating assessment of
A number of submitters observed that, since the tax increase, the
alcohol industry had been proactive in taking steps to encourage and facilitate
substitution of RTDs with other alcohol products. In particular, the PHAA
Since the announcement of the tax...there have been a series of
special promotions designed to have young people substitute spirit mixing for
The Committee heard evidence that over the same period producers had
also developed products able to directly substitute for alcopops, such as
so-called 'malternatives'. These are beer-based products that share the characteristic
sweetness, colours and branding of alcopops, but which would not attract the
increased excise and customs tariff on spirit-based RTDs (these are discussed
in detail below). In terms of characteristics and price, such products are able
to directly substitute for alcopops, and the Committee notes that this
occurrence could also make assessment of substitution more difficult.
The Committee notes that there is evidence of substitution following the
tax increase, with some consumers substituting full-strength spirits for RTDs.
However, as there has been a reduction in terms of overall consumption,
the Committee disagrees with the view expressed by some stakeholders that
substitution in response to the measures has been so complete as to cancel out
the intent of the measures. In particular, the Committee highlights the 7.9 per
cent decrease in combined spirit sales, as well as reductions on total
consumption of alcohol. These outcomes indicate that, while substitution has
occurred, it has not occurred to such an extent as to undermine the intended
consumption and health outcomes of the measures through the lowering of
The Committee notes also that the decline in sales of RTDs has arrested
a sustained period of increasing sales of these beverages since 2000.
A convincing proof of extensive substitution would therefore need to show that
both combined spirit sales and total alcohol consumption were not just
equivalent to previous comparable periods but also equivalent to previous sales
growth trajectories. Given this, the decline in combined spirit sales and total
alcohol consumption might be more significant than the figures alone would
The Committee recognises that it would be unrealistic in practice to
expect no substitution following the measure to increase the excise and customs
duty on RTDs. However, as the PHAA observed, other spirits or forms of alcohol
may not have the same 'gateway effect' as RTDs.
This refers to the undoubted attractiveness of such beverages to young
people—particularly young women—in terms of taste and appearance. These characteristics
allow young people to more easily consume and acquire a taste for alcohol, with
all the financial, health and other risks that this implies. Considerable
benefits may still flow from the substitution of RTDs for forms of alcohol less
attractive to young palates and sensibilities.
Professor Tanya Chikritzhs commented on the fact that different
beverages posed different types and levels of harm to young drinkers:
...not all beverages are equal in the amount of harm that they are
likely to be associated with. So, as has been done here, a special harm levy or
tax needs to be placed on beverages that are known to be specifically risky for
Changes in consumption patterns of ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages and
all alcoholic beverages by sex and age group
As with the issue of substitution, the ATO clearance data was relied on
by many submitters and witnesses as relevant to the issue of changes in
consumption patterns of RTDs and other alcoholic beverages since the tax
Patterns of consumption
As noted above, there was no significant dispute that RTD sales have
reduced significantly since the tax increase. The Committee heard that ATO
clearance figures show a reduction of 34.6 per cent for the period May to
September 2008, compared to the same period in 2007.
The ATO figures were complemented by AC Nielsen data on alcohol
consumption. From May to July 2008, this showed a 26.1 per cent decrease in
consumption of RTDs, equivalent to 91 million standard drinks, compared to the
same period in the previous year.
Mr Geoffrey Munro, National Policy Manager, Australian Drug Foundation,
provided longer-term AC figures Nielsen for the period May 2008 to January 2009
with the same period in the previous year showed a 29 per cent decrease in
total sales of RTDs, equivalent to 310 million standard drinks.
ADCA's submission, having considered the ATO clearance data as well as
the AC Nielson consumption data, concluded:
[The tax increase] was designed to specifically reduce
consumption of one type of beverage, ready-to-drink spirits. On that measure,
the tax reform appears to have been successful.
The National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) noted that the AC Nielsen
data showed that since the increased tax there had been 43 million fewer
standard drinks consumed as RTDs.
The Australian Hotels Association (AHA) referred to a survey of a
selection of its members that it conducted in order to ascertain changes to
sales of alcohol since the tax increases. This survey showed a significant
decrease in RTD sales, although there was no actual figure or percentage given.
Associate Professor Anthony Shakeshaft, National Drug and Alcohol
Research Centre (NDARC), commented that the extent of the changes in
consumption of RTDs demonstrated the potential for price measures such as tax
increases to influence consumption behaviour:
...it has been remarkable that one tax targeted at a very specific
type of beverage has had such a big impact in terms of industry behaviour, and
we have been able to look at the change in sales and the change in consumption
amongst young people more broadly. We think, if nothing else, this process has
shown the quite powerful effects that excises can have.
The PHAA also endorsed the effectiveness of 'price levers'—particularly
as part of a comprehensive approach to reducing consumption of alcohol. In
relation to the particular effect of the April 2008 excise and customs duty
increases, it stated:
The initial nine months of the alcopops tax...illustrates the
efficacy of pricing in influencing purchasing [i.e. consumption] behaviour.
However, the PHAA was careful to offer a note of caution about
interpreting trends in consumption over the relatively short period since the
Patterns may follow an initial change with a price increase and
have a drift back to the more desirable but more expensive product. Nine months
of this increase is not long enough to determine this possible long term
A number of submissions placed the reduction in consumption of RTDs
firmly in the context of long-term consumption patterns, arguing that the 34.6
per cent reduction was even more significant considered in this light. Both
ADCA and the Department of the Treasury, for example, noted that there was a
high growth in consumption of RTDs after July 1 2000, following changes which
saw taxation of RTDs established at a rate similar to the excise rate
applicable to full-strength beer.
On this point, information provided to Treasury from DSICA as part of
pre-budget submissions in 2008-09 stated:
...RTD sales have been growing (from a very low base) since
1993-94. The excise duty on RTDs was reduced on 1 July 2000, under the A New Tax System. There was significant growth in RTDs immediately after
that time. RTD sales have increased 254% between 1999-07...
Professor Chikritzhs provided figures which revealed the effect of this
growth in RTD sales post 2000 on consumption levels of young people:
In 1999, before reductions in tax and in the retail price of
RTDs in 2000, RTDs were the preferred beverage of about 23% of 12–17-year-old
female drinkers. By 2005, after the tax decrease, 48% of young females drank
RTDs, while the preference for higher-taxed spirits fell from 42% to 30%. For
12–17-year-old males, RTD consumption increased from 6% to 14% ... Although new
products and marketing strategies may have contributed to this substantial
change, these data suggest that young Australians, like their counterparts in
other countries, do alter their beverage choices in response to price changes.
Treasury also cited ABS figures which showed that the apparent growth in
consumption of alcohol in the form of RTDs over the period 2002-04 to 2006-07
was considerably greater than the apparent growth in the consumption of alcohol
in other types of beverage over the same period. While on this measure RTDs
grew by 30.2 per cent, other forms of alcohol grew at between only 2.5 per cent
and 4.8 per cent (for apparent consumption of beer and full-strength spirits
respectively). Overall apparent growth in consumption of alcohol increased by
5.8 per cent.
Consumption by sex and age groups
While the Committee thus received clear evidence that since the tax
increase there has been a substantial decline in the very high levels of growth
and consumption of RTDs, there was no direct evidence to show how that
reduction applied to consumption behaviour within different sex and age groups.
The ADCA observed that the value of the available evidence in terms of drawing
conclusions about RTD consumption by sex and age group was limited:
[The ATO excise] data, by its nature, cannot be disaggregated
into sex and age cohorts.
The PHAA noted the difficulty of extrapolating long-term consumption
patterns in specific groups of people from data covering such a relatively brief
period. This was also complicated by many other factors that could influence
consumer behaviour. Despite this, the PHAA felt that the 34.6 per cent
reduction in sales of alcopops was 'significant' and an 'indicator' of trends
in such patterns.
However, some observed that, given National Drug Strategy Household
Survey (NDSHS) findings prior to the reform showing that RTDs are the preferred
drink of both young and underage drinkers of both sexes, it was possible to
infer that the fall in consumption of RTDs 'must reflect changed consumption
patterns amongst young drinkers'.
On this reasoning, the overall reduction of RTD consumption could be said to
indicate at least the likelihood of a reduction in consumption of RTDs by young
people, and particularly young women.
The AHA disagreed that the reduced consumption levels of RTDs could be
taken as an indication of reduced consumption among young girls. The AHA
believed that the majority of RTDs were drunk by males over the age of 25, and
on that basis observed that the significant decrease in RTD sales would have
'done little to achieve the stated objective of reducing the level of risky
drinking among young females'.
Further, the AHA considered that males over the age of 25 years had
either substituted full-strength spirits or other products for RTDs, so the
reduced consumption of RTDs could not be taken as an indicator of reduced
consumption among this sex and age group either.
Mr Munro drew attention to AC Nielsen data which showed a 38 per cent
decrease in sales of vodka-based RTDs with more than 6 per cent alcohol, and
described this as a significant result in the context of the stated intent of
the tax increase:
...it is important, given this tax is aimed particularly at young,
underage drinkers and young female drinkers, to recognise that vodka alcopops
are preferred by young drinkers and particularly by young females.
So this is telling us that, concerning the aim of reducing the
attraction of or the demand for alcopops, the tax has been successful with this
massive decline in alcopops sales—and the largest decline has been in the sales
of the vodka high-alcohol drinks favoured by young women.
All alcoholic beverages
The Committee notes that, as with the consideration of consumption
patterns of RTDs above, there is limited evidence available to consider the
changes in consumption of all alcoholic beverages by sex and age group. Again,
this is because the ATO clearance data, and most other data, does not
disaggregate sex and age cohorts at all; and all data considered covers only a
very brief period for analytical purposes.
The ATO clearance data shows that growth in excisable alcohol
consumption, which is an aggregate class comprised of beer, spirits and RTDs,
has slowed by 0.1 per cent since the tax increase on RTDs (for the period May
2008 to January 2009 compared with the previous year). By comparison, the
previous three years recorded 'solid' growth in excisable alcohol consumption:
Treasury's submission pointed to the AC Nielsen data which showed that
total consumption of alcoholic beverages (RTDs, beer, wine and spirits) fell by
2.7 per cent in the period May to July 2008 compared to the same period in the
previous year. This fall was equivalent to 64 million standard drinks.
However, the AHA came to a different conclusion about overall
consumption on the basis of the survey it conducted of its members, which found
that there has been no discernible drop in overall sales of alcohol products.
On the basis that sales is a useful proxy for consumption, the AHA member
increased sales of full-strength spirits;
no change or a slight increase to sales of beer;
increased wine sales of around 20 per cent; and
increased sales of other alcohol products such as cider.
The IDA submission referred to a Roy Morgan Research survey of total alcohol
consumption across men, women and the group 18 to 24-year-olds, comparing the
period July to December 2008 with the corresponding period in the previous
year. This showed a 2.3 per cent increase in total alcohol consumption for all
Australians aged over 18. The rise was attributable to:
The ADCA submitted that the available evidence showed that overall
spirit consumption had decreased by roughly 8 per cent. This figure was based
on the ATO clearance data which showed that, while some substitution from RTDs
to full-strength spirits had occurred, total spirit consumption fell by around
334 000 litres of pure alcohol, said to be equivalent to 26 000 000 standard
The WFA provided a submission to the inquiry which commented on the
changes to wine consumption since the introduction of the tax. It noted that
wine consumption data by sex, age and beverage since the tax increase were not
available. However, data on winery sales was available, and this information
was a 'useful proxy for consumption'.
The WFA's comparison of the first-quarter (July-September) sales of wine
for the years 2006 to 2008 showed that since the tax increase:
sales of Australian produced wine decreased;
sales of cask wine decreased; and
sales of imported wine increased marginally.
In relation to total sales of wine in Australia, the WFA's analysis of
the April-June quarter for the previous three years showed a marginal 3 per cent
increase between the last two years, with Australian wine sales dropping
slightly over that period.
The Treasury submission, however, suggested that wine consumption had
fallen following the tax increase. It cited AC Nielsen data on alcohol
consumption which showed that wine consumption fell by 2.6 per cent in the
period May to July 2008 compared to the same period in the previous year. This
reduction was equivalent to 21 million standard drinks.
The Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand (BAANZ) provided a
submission which commented on consumption of beer products following the tax
increase. The association relied on data on beer deliveries, which indicates
general trends in beer deliveries over time. This could be a 'viable proxy for
Beer delivery figures for the three months either side of the introduction of
the tax increase (February-April 2008 and May-July 2008) showed a 0.4 per cent
increase in delivery volumes.
However, beer delivery figures for the six-month period either side of
the tax increase showed a 10.4 per cent decrease in delivery volumes.
The Committee notes that the AC Nielsen data also suggested a rise in
beer consumption. This data showed a 1.5 per cent increase in consumption of
beer in the period May to July 2008 compared to the same period in the previous
year, equivalent to 13 million standard drinks.
BAANZ noted that 'short-term fluctuation' in the data could not be
reasonably interpreted against the effects of the 'constantly shifting microeconomic
environment', such as changes in the excise and customs environment, and
macroeconomic factors such as global economic conditions. BAANZ therefore could
not reliably infer anything from these data.
In terms of long-term trends, per capita beer consumption had seen a slow
decline in Australia, and given this, BAANZ observed:
...at best, 'it would be heroic to conclude that the alcopops tax
is supporting a statistically significant turnaround in beer consumption
trends; at worst, it would be misleading.
The Committee accepts that it is difficult to draw conclusions about
consumption patterns on the basis of the data that has become available since
the tax increase. However, on the basis of ATO clearance data it is reasonable
to conclude that consumption of RTDs has decreased and that, while some
substitution to full-strength spirits has occurred, overall consumption of both
spirits and alcohol has also decreased.
This conclusion is supported by the ATO clearance data from the period
following the original change to the excise regime, which strongly suggests
that tax treatment does affect consumption of RTDs. Discussing the nature of
this data, Professor Allsop noted:
...it is universally accepted that sales data are strongly and
closely aligned to consumption of alcohol...
Some evidence, such as the survey conducted by the AHA of its members, were
at variance to the recent ATO clearance data. However, in discussing this
evidence at the Canberra hearing on 10 March 2009, Mr Hamish Arthur, National
Corporate Affairs Manager, AHA, advised the Committee that the survey was based
on reportage by AHA members, and its conclusions were not based on statistical
analysis of raw data. Further, the Committee notes that, while the survey
concluded there had been no discernible decrease in total sales of alcohol, 42
per cent of respondents had reported a decrease in overall sales.
After considering the nature and quality of the evidence received, the
Committee preferred the ATO clearance data as well as other sales data as the
best indicator of consumption of RTDs and other alcohol beverages since the tax
increase. These sources confirmed there has been a reduction in consumption of
RTDs as well as alcohol overall since the tax increase.
Unintended consequences flowing from the introduction of the alcopops tax
Development of beer- and wine-based
alternatives to RTDs
The Committee heard that beverage companies had responded to the
increased excise and customs duty by developing so-called 'malternatives'. This
term refers to beer-based beverages that mimic the taste and appearance of
alcopops but avoid the raised excise duty. This is because beer attracts a
lower excise and excise-equivalent customs duty than spirits, RTDs and some
wine products. Other alternative products could also be manufactured from wine.
ADCA offered as an example of a malternative a vodka brand contemplating
the production of a beer-based drink 'stripped of its beer characteristics'
such that the beverage would attract the lower excise and customs duty rate.
DSICA submitted that the tax differential between spirits and beer and
wine meant that beer and wine products enjoy a relative tax advantage, which
would promote the future development of RTDs based on these products.
A number of submitters and witnesses expressed the opinion that the
development of malternatives was evidence that the excise and customs duty
increase had had a positive impact, because it had clearly reduced alcopops
consumption and caused the industry to seek to develop alternatives.
Recent amendments in response to
beer- and wine-based alternatives
On 25 February 2009, in recognition of malternatives, and the potential
for similar wine-based products to be developed, the Government moved
amendments to the Bills to ensure that such products do not undermine the
purpose of the 2008 changes by providing substitutes for alcopops that are not
subject to the duty increase and are therefore cheaper.
In commenting on the need for the amendments, the Minister for Health
and Ageing, the Hon. Nicola Roxon, noted the alcohol industry's general
willingness to target the youth market with new alcopop-style products that
avoid the increase tax.
A number of witnesses were also critical of the industry's general haste and
'irresponsibility' in undermining the intent of the 2008 increases.
The changes will commence from July 1 2009. Introducing the changes, Minister
...these amendments alter the taxation definition of 'beer' in the
Excise Tariff Act and 'beer' and...['grape wine product'] in the Customs tariff
Act. Changes in the definition of 'wine' in the A New Tax System (Wine
Equalisation) Tax Regulations 2000 will also follow...
The amendments will ensure that beer-based alternatives are subject to
the same tax rate as RTDs by amending the definition of 'beer' in the ETA 1921
and the CTA 1995. To be defined as 'beer' a product must:
not contain more than 4 per cent sugar or any artificial
sweetener or flavour;
have a level of bitterness equivalent to or greater than four
International Bitterness Units;
contain a dominant amount of alcohol derived from the yeast
fermentation process of an aqueous extract of cereals; the aqueous extract must
be predominantly cereals but may contain other carbohydrates and ingredients;
may contain spirit distilled from beer added during the brewing
process as long as it does not in excess of 5 millilitres per litre; and
may contain flavours added at any stage during the process but
not in excess of 5 millilitres per litre.
The proposed definition is in line with a recent ATO interpretative
decision on the excise definition of beer, which concluded that a beverage
requires sufficient bitterness to be considered as beer. The effect of this
decision was that malternatives in general would not be classified as beer for
There was generally support for the amendments aimed at countering the
development of beer-based alternatives to RTDs. BAANZ noted that it had
previously identified the development of malternatives as a potential
unintended consequence of the increased tax on RTDs, and indicated its support
for the proposed amendments to narrow the definition of 'beer'. BAANZ commented
that the proposed sweet/bitter distinction was a reasonable means of
'objectively drawing a line between beer and alcopops for taxation purposes'.
However, Angove Family Winemakers (AFW) identified the proposed
amendments to the definition of beer as problematic in relation to alcoholic
ginger beer. AFW noted that the amendments were 'not designed to affect the
taxation of conventional beer products that have the essential characteristics
of beer, based on taste and ingredients'.
However, the new definition appeared likely to capture the alcoholic ginger beer
produced by AFW, due to that product's characteristic sweetness. The AFW
product, with between 9.5 per cent and 10 per cent by weight of sugar, would
exceed the 4 per cent limit proposed in the new definition of beer.
AFW argued that its ginger beer was not comparable to any of the
beer-based alternatives because:
it is promoted and generally consumed as a take-home beverage;
it is not conducive to binge drinking due to its strong flavour
and sweetness (that is, it had low 'sessionability'); and
ginger beer is a traditional and conventional beer product.
AFW noted that the traditional aspects of ginger beer underpinned their
commercial development of the product to conform with legal definitions of
'beer'. They requested the government consider re-formulating the proposed new
definition of beer, or else create an exception, to ensure that alcoholic
ginger beer is not 'caught up in the tightening of the beer standard aimed at
catching beer-based alternatives'.
AFW observed that the government had already accommodated traditional
wine-style products in its re-formulation of the definition of 'wine'.
DSICA also raised objections about the proposed amendment, on the
grounds that it would lead to differential treatment of certain products:
The fact that the amendments will still permit the taxation of
flavoured beers at the lower tax rate, despite being of the same alcoholic
strength as spirit-based RTDs, perpetuates an anomalous tax regime.
Similarly, IDA, which had developed a malternative—a flavoured beer with
5 per cent alcohol—which was equivalent in strength to many beers and similar
in style to 'more than 100 existing flavoured beers already on the market in Australia'.
IDA saw these products as legitimate products that were to receive unfair
treatment under the proposed new definition.
Finally, DSICA expressed concerns that the proposed new definition, by
introducing the more complex definition of 'beer', would impose additional
compliance costs on industry. In particular, the new definition would 'remove
any margin for error in [the composition of] specialty offerings',
which would potentially require more expenditure on testing and development.
Similarly, the amendments will ensure that wine-based alternatives are
subject to the same excise and customs duty rate as RTDs by amending the
definition of 'grape wine product' in the CTA 1995; equivalent amendments will
be made to the A New Tax System (Wine Equalisation Tax) Regulations 2000.
The current definition provides that a 'grape wine product' must contain
at least 70 per cent grape wine, with the remaining 30 per cent able to contain
flavours and a limited amount of ethyl alcohol. Typical grape wine products are
wine cocktails and Irish style cream drinks. Under this definition, grape wine
products could be produced to resemble a RTD product subject to significantly
less tax than spirit-based RTD products.
The amended definition will provide that a 'grape wine product':
must contain at least 70 per cent grape wine;
must not have added to it ethyl alcohol from any source except
grape spirit or alcohol used in preparing vegetable extracts;
must contain at least 8 per cent, but not more than 22 per cent,
by volume of ethyl alcohol; and
must not have added to it the natural or artificial flavour of
any alcoholic beverage other than wine.
A 'grape wine product' that does have added to it ethyl alcohol used in
preparing vegetable extracts must comply with the following requirements:
the ethyl alcohol must only be used to extract flavours from
the ethyl alcohol must be essential to the extraction process;
the ethyl alcohol must not add more than one percentage point to
the strength of alcohol by volume of the beverage.
The WFA expressed its support for the proposed measures as being
effective to prevent the grape wine category being exploited for the purposes
of creating new wine-based RTDs that would be taxed at a lower rate than other
In addition, the WFA had recently asked Food Standards Australia and New
Zealand to prescribe the term 'wine-based beverage' for all products meeting
the definition of wine product in the Australia-New Zealand Food Standards
Code. This would ensure that a product meeting the definition would have to be
clearly labelled as a wine product.
However, DSICA was concerned that the changes extended a competitive
advantage to certain products. It noted that the amendments would not prevent
the marketing of so-called piccolo bottles of wine, which were priced lower
than RTDs and could have 'more than twice the typical alcohol content of an
The Committee notes there was widespread support for the proposed
amendments from health bodies and certain industry stakeholders to ensure that
beer- and wine-based alternatives are not able to undermine the intent of the
tax increase on RTDs. The evidence considered by the Committee suggested that
the proposed changes to the definitions of 'beer' and 'grape wine product would
be effective to prevent the development of products that could avoid the higher
excise and customs duty on RTDs while effectively substituting for
However, the Committee acknowledges the concerns of AFW in relation to
the potential for the proposed new definition of 'beer' to inadvertently
capture traditional ginger-beer style products, which do not possess the
characteristics of the RTDs to which the tax increase is intended to apply. The
Committee notes that Minister Roxon, in introducing the amendments, indicated
that the government was prepared to make further changes to the proposed new
definitions in the event that any unintended consequences were identified.
The Department of the Treasury confirmed in its appearance before the Committee
that it would consider the particular issue raised by AFW.
The Committee is confident that, should there be a need for any further
amendments to the new definitions, the government will be mindful of the need
to avoid creating any further loopholes that could be exploited to avoid the effect
and intent of the tax increase on RTDs.
Effectiveness of the changes to the alcohol excise regime in reducing the
claims of excessive consumption of ready-to-drink alcohol beverages
The Committee notes that the limitations of the available evidence,
discussed above in relation to changes in patterns of consumption, were also
relevant to its consideration of the effectiveness of the tax increase in
reducing excessive consumption. While sales data can serve as a reliable proxy
for consumption, many submitters and witnesses observed that evidence of
consumption per se is not able to shed light on the occurrence of excessive
consumption. In contrast, other witnesses were more confident to conclude on
the basis of indicators of consumption that the tax increase was likely to have
led to reduced incidence of excessive consumption.
The PHAA submission noted the difficulty of using the available
information to measure trends in excessive consumption, and suggested that the
use of such data for this purpose would amount to 'setting up a straw man'.
IDA observed that, while the tax increase had significantly affected RTD
sales (taken as an indication of consumption):
...there is precisely no evidence that shows this reduction in
sales of premixed alcohol has resulted in a reduction in excessive consumption
of ready to drink alcohol beverages.
In particular, IDA noted that the government had not produced any
evidence of a 'reduction in arrests, emergency room hospital admissions police
incidents or other indicators of risky [and thus excessive] drinking'.
Further, IDA denied that the reduction in consumption of RTDs could be
taken as evidence of lower levels of excessive consumption. It pointed to the
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare finding that the beverages preferred
by high-risk drinkers were not RTDs but beer, wine, spirits or liqueurs.
If RTD drinkers were not generally high-risk drinkers then the reduction in
consumption of RTDs could not indicate reduced levels of excessive consumption.
The ADCA, however, noted that excessive consumption, understood as risky
and/or high-risk consumption in relation to short and long-term harm,
is prevalent among consumers of alcohol. In particular:
Given these figures, ADCA concluded that the reduction in consumption of
total spirits since the tax increase 'will have reduced excessive consumption
of spirit-based RTDs'.
Professor Chikritzhs conceded that there was no direct evidence on the
question of reduced levels of excessive drinking in particular social groups.
However, taking into consideration a broader range of sources, Professor Chikritzhs
...various surveys, such as the secondary schools survey and the
National Drug Strategy health survey, [identify] which part of the population
prefers to drink RTDs, or alcopops. We know that in the 14- to 17-year-old age
group who drinks at risky, high-risk levels for short-term harm, 70 to 80 per
cent of that consumption is done via RTDs, or alcopops, and we know that the
drink of choice amongst middle-aged people and older people is not alcopops but
beer and, in the case of females, wine. We could make an educated guess...[that
young people drinking at risky levels] would be the most likely to be affected
by this RTD tax.
The Committee found that there was no direct evidence to show that there
had been a reduction in excessive drinking since the introduction of the tax
increase. However, the Committee notes that it received considerable evidence
commenting on the difficulty of establishing causal links between policy or tax
measures and risky- or high-risk behaviour such as excessive consumption. Further,
this difficulty is compounded by a lack of appropriate data due to the
relatively short period since the tax increase.
The Committee observes that, in relation to its consideration of changes
to at-risk behaviour and health impacts, a number of witnesses referred to
indirect evidence that could justify an expectation of a reduction in excessive
consumption among the target group. This is discussed below.
Evidence of changes to at-risk behaviour or health impacts (either positive
or negative) as a result of the introduction of the alcopops tax
The Committee's previous inquiries examined in much detail the short-
and long-term health impacts and social effects of alcohol consumption. The
Committee recognises that risky and high-risk consumption of alcohol causes
significant harms to individuals and imposes high costs on society. These
issues are important background context for the current inquiry; however, it
was not necessary to consider them specifically according to the terms of
reference. A more detailed consideration of these issues may be found in the
Committee's reports on ready-to-drink alcohol products and the Alcohol Toll Reduction
The Committee notes that on 6 March 2009 the National Health and Medical
Research Council released new guidelines on safe drinking. The old guidelines
acted as the benchmark for risky and high-risk drinking in the previous
inquiries. The new guidelines stipulate that two standard drinks a day for both
men and women, and four on one-off occasions, is advisable to avoid
alcohol-related injury or disease. The guidelines emphasise the risks of
alcohol consumption for young people, saying that people under the age of 15
should not drink at all, and that persons between 15 and 17 years of age should
delay drinking as long as possible.
The Committee notes that the new guidelines stipulate a lower level of alcohol
consumption to avoid alcohol-related harms than the previous guidelines,
effectively lowering the consumption level that should be classed as risky or
Effect of changes on at-risk
The Committee notes that the limitations of the available evidence were
significant in relation to the question of changes to at-risk behaviour or
health impacts. Many stakeholders commented on the limited nature of the
evidence, which was due to the short period since the increase, as well as the difficulty
of using consumption data to draw conclusions about changes to risky or
high-risk behaviour or about the health impacts.
Effectiveness of taxation in
achieving health outcomes
A number of witnesses accepted that tax increases can be effective to
drive changes in consumption behaviour and thereby achieve positive health
outcomes. The submission of the NDRI noted:
There is strong international evidence that increasing the cost
of alcohol reduces consumption and [that] lower levels of overall consumption
are closely related to lower levels of alcohol-related harm.
In several countries, price increases...have been consistently
shown to reduce alcohol consumption and related harms in both the general
population and at-risk populations.
Further, such an approach was supported as a legitimate aim of
government by some stakeholders. The National Health Foundation of Australia
submission contained a typical endorsement:
The legislation provides for an increase in tax on pre-mixed
spirits in order to reduce harmful consumption of these products, particularly
by their intended market, young people. This is entirely consistent with good
public health principles.
Mr David Templeman, Chief Executive Officer, ADCA, observed that the
public debate on the tax increase on RTDs had contributed to heightened
awareness of the issues around alcohol-related health impacts, and complemented
other initiatives designed to reduce consumption:
although there may be appear to be shortcomings about the
current RTD taxation debate, we are seeing a public health effect in the
community...There is an increasing awareness of alcohol related violence in the
media and by all members of the community. State governments are reforming
liquor licensing laws to attempt to minimise violence. New research and public
discussion is alerting the community to links between excessive alcohol consumption
and cancers and other long-term harms—brain impairment and the like. There is
now increased awareness of the links between mental health and alcohol abuse.
Other stakeholders disagreed that taxation could be used to achieve
beneficial outcomes in such areas as health. The WFA, for example, submitted
that taxation was a 'blunt social policy tool that does not distinguish between
harmful consumption and responsible drinking'. Further, it claimed:
There is little evidence to demonstrate net population benefits
through overall increased alcohol taxation: responsible consumers are likely to
reduce or cease consumption depending on the level of price increase...and
irresponsible consumers are considered less price sensitive and more likely to
either switch products or switch substances.
The IDA commented that the use of a tax increase for a small percentage
of products was naïve because risky drinking behaviour is determined not by
what people drink but by how much.
In a similar vein, BAANZ cautioned that:
...overall production data, and indeed per capita consumption
data, are virtually meaningless metrics for describing health outcomes or
drinking habits in particular populations. It is the pattern of consumption by individuals
that determines whether those individual drinking choices accrue a social
benefit or cost – alcohol consumption per se does not automatically give
rise to costs. When one speaks of the social costs of alcohol, one is
describing the outcome of alcohol misuse.
DSICA endorsed the view of Access Economics that positive health impacts
of taxation or price measures was also undermined by substitution effects:
...it is not possible to draw conclusions from changes in taxation
revenue or sales of RTD about whether the RTD tax increase has been successful
in reducing risky drinking among young people. This is because an increase in
the price of one type of alcoholic beverage may lead consumers to switch
consumption to other types of drinks – with similar or higher alcohol content
per drinking episode or per dollar spent.
The Australian Taxpayers' Union offered a philosophical objection to the
intent of the tax increase, which it saw as an inappropriate attempt 'by
Government to use its powers of taxation to financially coerce Australian
individuals into a Government approved consumption behaviour'.
Evidence of changes to at-risk
Reduced consumption and health
Speaking in the House of Representatives on 11 February 2009, Minister Roxon suggested that the decline in sales and therefore consumption of RTDs
had been linked to reduced levels of risky or high-risk drinking. The Minister
noted that, in 2004, 78 per cent females drinking at risky or high-risk levels
drank RTDs on their last drinking occasion. A reduction in consumption was
therefore likely to equate to a decrease in binge drinking.
The NDRI noted that consumption data indicated consumer responses to the
tax increase were 'headed in the right direction', and concluded that the
decline in RTD sales was 'likely to produce a public health benefit'.
This conclusion was tempered by the acknowledgement that further investigation
was necessary to determine whether the reduction in RTD consumption had
occurred primarily among young female drinkers, the target group of the tax
At the hearing in Canberra on 10 March 2009, Professor Allsop observed
that overall levels of consumption are meaningfully indicative of the level of harm
across the whole community. He explained:
There is a consistent body of evidence that indicates that
alcohol consumption levels are strongly predictive of alcohol related problems
in a community—not just problems that affect the individual drinker but
problems that affect the broader community as well. There is a strong and consistent
body of national and international evidence that indicates that changes in
price are strongly associated with changes in consumption and thereby changes
in alcohol related harm.
Professor Chikritzhs commented:
...the World Health Organisation, in its guidelines for monitoring
alcohol related harm, recommends...sales data...as the most reliable, gold standard
way of measuring consumption in a community. The 30 years of evidence that says
that, as consumption decreases overall in a population, harms go down, and so
do risky and high-risk drinking.
However, a number of stakeholders disagreed that the tax increase had
led to a reduction in at-risk behaviour or in negative health outcomes. IDA and
DSICA, for example, cited the AIHW finding that beer, wine and spirits, as
opposed to RTDs, are the drinks of choice for those who drink at risky levels.
Given this, the reduction in consumption of RTDs could not be interpreted or
anticipated as necessarily leading to positive health outcomes amongst any
group, including young people.
Further, some thought that evidence showing substitution of
full-strength spirits for RTDs indicated potential for increased levels of
risky or high-risk alcohol consumption. The IDA expressed the view that, given
the evidence of substitution, the tax increase had in fact encouraged drinkers
to move towards forms of alcohol that are stronger and more likely to be
associated with risky and high-risk drinking:
There is no doubt that the major consequence of the alcopops tax
has been to push drinkers from pre-mixed drinks, with a defined alcohol content
of about five per cent on average, toward drinks which are between two and
seven times that alcohol content.
A submission from Amy Thurgood, which provided an anecdotal account of
substitution occurring among RTD drinkers, commented that full-strength spirits
were able to be more easily abused. It was also inherently more difficult for
drinkers to regulate their intake:
...the last thing this tax is doing is reducing binge drinking.
Having bottles of spirits around increases people doing shots and not be [sic]
able to stick to standard drink sizes.
The AHA supported such anecdotal reports of substitution of
full-strength spirits for RTDs, as well as the suggestion that the switch to
full-strength spirits involved a higher chance of risky or high-risk
This [substitution of full-strength spirits] generally leads to
higher levels of risky drinking, particularly in non-controlled environments.
It negates the advantage that RTDs provide in portion control which enables
better monitoring of consumption...
However, in relation to substitution effects, Professor Chikritzhs noted
that RTDs carried specific risks in terms of being more attractive to young
palates and therefore playing a significant role in introducing young people to
...there is good evidence to show that [for very young people]
their drink of choice, and their first drink, is in fact in the form of
alcopops, not beer and wine. And that is reason for concern; drinking patterns
that are established early in life can go on to remain with that person
throughout their life. There is very good evidence that young people who drink
earlier and drink more, and who establish strong drinking patterns in youth,
are much more likely to go on to have alcohol dependence problems, problems
with the law, homelessness and so on.
Dr Capolingua also stressed that the characteristics of alcopop style
RTDs carried particular risks in terms of socialising young people around
The facts have been that alcopops have been affordable, sweet,
palatable to drink and highly marketable to younger people. They are an
attractive beverage to have in your hand at a social event. This adds an
imposed extra-risk dimension for young people—promotion of dangerous levels of
drinking in young people.
Alcohol-related hospital admissions
DSICA's submission raised the issue of alcohol-related hospital
admissions as an indicator of the impact of the tax increase on at-risk
behaviour and health impacts, based on a report it commissioned by Access
Economics which assessed trends in hospital use. The report, and a second
report that updates the earlier report, analysed admissions to both public and
private hospitals as well as visits to emergency departments by young people
for alcohol-related diagnoses.
The aim of the report was to:
...assess whether the increase in the tax rate on...[RTDs] has had
any impact on hospitalisations from high-risk drinking by young people, since
the purported aim of the policy was to reduce such drinking.
On the basis of the report DSICA submitted:
Data showing no reduction in alcohol related hospitalisations
since the tax change also confirms that the RTD tax increase has failed to
achieve its health objective.
The methodology employed by Access Economics to examine alcohol-related
admissions by young people was to collect data from the relevant departments of
states and territories on hospital use, from January 2005 to the most recent
month available. This information consisted of the International Classification
of Disease (ICD) codes, which in a given case indicate the reason for hospital
admission. For the purposes of the report ICD code F10 was identified as the
most relevant code, with the analysis restricted to incidents classified as F10
and involving young males and females aged between 12 to 24 years of age.
The report offered a number of important caveats:
the data used may be incomplete and/or subject to revision; and
given the short period covered by the data, further data may be
required to ensure statistical significance.
The report concluded that the data on hospital admissions did not
support a finding that the tax increase had reduced risky drinking by young
people. Specifically, it found:
in six states alcohol-related hospital separations for males and
females ages 12 to 24 years-old were higher than the same month in previous
years; for females the figure was higher than for April 2008;
in Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western
Australia emergency department presentations for males and females ages 12 to
24 years-old were higher from May to August 2008 than for the same period in
previous years; with the exception of July 2008, the rates were higher in each
month for all age groups except 18 to 24 year-old females; and the overall
increase was higher for each month after the tax increase relative to those
the combined hospital separation and emergency department
presentation rates for the six states in May and June 2008 are higher than in
previous years; for females these rates were higher than in previous years and
the earlier months of 2008.
The methodology and findings of the Access Economics report were the
subject of some criticism. For example, the Royal Australasian College of
Physicians (RACP) identified 'important flaws in the methods used and
implications drawn' in the report. In particular, the use of the F10 ICD code
was criticised as an inappropriate indicator of alcohol-related harm, as it
generally accounted for a 'very small proportion of all alcohol-related
conditions' and an even smaller proportion of all presentations. Reliance on
this particular code was also questionable due to issues of subjectivity and
consistency of application of the code.
On this point—although not commenting directly on the report—Associate
Professor Shakeshaft explained:
The key problem is that the way they categorise hospital
presentations is through the International Classification of Diseases, and
those codes are not set up to measure alcohol or the contributing factors; they
are there to measure what you are actually there for. So if you turn up at the ED
and you had been drinking too much and you fell and broke your arm, what would
get recorded is a broken arm in the ED and the alcohol may or may not get
Other flaws identified included:
the report provided no comparison with any form of control to
ascertain whether the identified increase in alcohol-related presentations was
part of a broader trend; as such it is possible that the increase is due to an
increase in all presentations;
the report identifies an apparent rise in alcohol-related
presentations as being significant because it is more than a standard deviation
above the mean; however, this was not 'an accepted indicator of statistical
the appropriate time series analyses were not performed on the
data to determine whether the identified increase in alcohol-related
presentations was part a longer-term trend; the application of such an analysis
revealed that there was in fact such a longer-term trend.
Support for tax increase as part of
a broader commitment
Many witnesses and submitters, particularly those representing health
bodies, directly endorsed the changes to the alcohol excise regime in the context
of the government's broader commitment to reducing risky and high-risk
drinking. These comments reinforced the Committee's support for the measure as
one in the context of a range measures to address harmful alcohol consumption,
especially by young people, that was made in Recommendation 1 in its June 2008
report Ready-to-drink alcohol beverages.
The PHAA, for example, registered its support for the government's
approach as 'a first step in a comprehensive package'.
Associate Professor Shakeshaft observed that the 'way to get an optimal
improvement or to optimally protect young people in terms of binge drinking'
required an approach that encompassed price, availability and advertising of
Professor Rob Moodie, Chair, Preventative Health Task Force, stressed
the importance of a 'comprehensive, long-term and multipronged approach'.
If we can look at some of our past successes in Australia where
we have done very well, whether that is in tobacco, road trauma, skin cancer or
cardiovascular disease just to name a few, there has been this essential...combination
of education, social marketing, relevant regulation and legislation, use of
primary health care, mobilisation of communities and support of funding. That
has only really worked because they are all working together. If you take one
leg away then it weakens the whole strategy.
Professor Moodie further described the critical elements of a successful
preventative health strategy:
With this, pricing and taxation is one element of a
comprehensive strategy. It also has to entail public education, social
marketing, looking at labelling of alcohol products, enforcing the existing
legislation, liquor control legislation, standardising these approaches across
Australia, and it also requires looking at regulation of alcohol promotions
much more effectively, how we can use brief interventions at a primary health
care level much more effectively, how we can more effectively work within and
with Indigenous communities and, lastly, building our research, monitoring and
Dr Rosanna Capolingua, President, Australian Medical Association, also
expressed support for a comprehensive approach:
We support the alcopops tax in the context of broader measures
to address harmful drinking, particularly among young people.
The AMA believes that the positive potential of this tax measure
would be significantly strengthened if the government...implemented a
multifaceted and substantial strategy of alcohol harm reduction and prevention
measures addressing alcohol marking, advertising, labelling, education and
The National Health Foundation of Australia cited research showing high
levels of public support for increased tax on RTDs, especially where those
taxes were used or earmarked for preventative health programs:
A survey of more than 1,200 Australian adults showed 84 per cent
supported the Australian Government s increased tax on pre-mixed spirits and 88
per cent backed increased tobacco tax, if most of the revenue funded programs
to help prevent diseases such as heart disease and cancer...The Newspoll survey
showed Australians strongly supported tax increases that could reduce
consumption of harmful products while raising funds to improve the nation s
In concluding the second reading debate, the Minister for Health and
Ageing, the Hon. Nicola Roxon, outlined the scope of the government's approach:
[The 53 million binge-drinking strategy]...includes a number of
very important measures. There is $14.4 million for community-level initiatives
to confront the culture of binge drinking, in partnership with sporting and
community organisations; $19.1 million to intervene earlier to assist young
people and ensure that they assume personal responsibility...and $20 million on
an advertising campaign, ‘Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare’, confronting
youth with the consequences of binge drinking.
The funds committed to the National Binge Drinking Strategy were
complemented by $872 million in new funding for preventative health under a
COAG agreement. New initiatives on alcohol, tobacco and obesity would seek to
impact on risky and high-risk drinking behaviours. The government would also
consider any recommendations of the National Preventative Health Taskforce.
DSICA, while it did not support the Bills, was supportive of the
government's broader preventative health strategy, particularly as it relates
to reducing alcohol-related harm:
DSICA recognises and commends the Government's focus on
preventative health, and the creation of the PHT [Preventative Health
Taskforce]. DSICA looks forward to working with the Government...to formulate a
national approach to minimise alcohol-related harm...
The Committee notes the strong support of many stakeholders,
particularly health bodies, for the tax increase as a measure likely to have
had, and to continue to have, a positive health impact on young people,
particularly young women. The measure was supported both on its own terms and
as part of a more comprehensive approach to reducing alcohol-related harms.
The Committee heard considerable evidence of the connection between
reduced consumption and positive health outcomes. This relationship was likely
to be more significant in the case of RTDs, given their particular appeal to
young people and role in introducing young drinkers to alcohol and the
considerable short- and long-term risks associated with its consumption.
The Committee considered evidence of alcohol-related hospital admissions
to be problematic as an indicator of the health impacts of the tax measure, due
to questions of methodology and data quality.
Comparison of the predicted effects of the introduction of the alcopops tax
with the data of actual effects with a particular focus on evidence (or lack
thereof) collected by the relevant department
In the second reading speech on the Bills, Minister Roxon acknowledged
that the original revenue predictions in relation to the increased tax on RTDs,
at $3.1 billion over the forward estimates, had been considerably greater than
the more recent estimate contained in the EM, some $1.6 billion over the same
DSICA's submission argued that the significant reduction in the
estimated revenues from the tax increase measure reflected 'significant changes
in patterns of consumption', and demonstrate that the increase was 'not
properly thought through and 'how little the government understands the dynamics
of the alcohol market'.
However, the Committee notes that the reduced revenue estimate is more
properly considered as a difference in degree than as a fundamental
misunderstanding of the effect of the measure and the market to which it
applies. As the Committee's consideration of consumption issues has shown, the
tax increase has worked to substantially reduce the level of consumption of
RTDs—equivalent to some 91 million fewer RTDs being consumed over the period
May to July 2008 according to the AC Nielsen figures. As Minister Roxon
observed in the second reading speech on the Bills:
This is a much better result than the government had forecast.
At the time of the budget, it was forecast that the measure would merely slow
the growth in alcopop sales...Happily the measure has been even more effective.
To see this dramatic reduction is the clearest evidence...that this measure is
Mr David Kalisch, Deputy Secretary, Department of Health and Ageing,
noted the department had expressed the view in the course of the previous
inquiry into RTDs that increasing the tax on such beverages, despite the
likelihood of some substitution occurring, was likely to reduce consumption of
RTDs as well as consumption of alcohol overall. Mr Kalisch observed:
...to date, the data that is available seems to be bearing out our
expectation and...the industry’s own sales data indicates that there are
approximately 20 million fewer standard drinks being consumed each month.
Value of evidence-based decision-making in the taxation of alcoholic
All submitters and witnesses expressed support for evidence-based
decision-making in the taxation of alcoholic products. The submission of the
PHAA typically expressed the support of public health bodies and advocates for
The PHAA seeks a systemic approach to the collection of data on
alcohol use so that information and evidence is available to decision makers
and to researchers to ensure better analysis and decision making.
Similarly, the WFA stated:
The Australian wine sector supports policy and regulation on the
basis of clear evidence of outcomes measured against the impact on
Associate Professor Shakeshaft commented that the course of the inquiry
had demonstrated the need to inform research with better information on the
health outcomes of certain policies such as tax measures:
One of the interesting outcomes of the process to date is it has
crystallised, particularly from a research point of view, that there are not
really good data on how to measure harms that are specific to certain policies
like this particular tax. We would strongly encourage further consideration of
some further research to obtain those particular data.
Similarly, the NDRI encouraged the government to:
...continue efforts to ensure that high quality data are gathered
to help evaluate the impact of policy and strategies to reduce alcohol related
harm and to inform future endeavour.
The AHA observed that the alcohol market 'waxes and wanes with fashion.
Accordingly, it felt that clear evidence was required to justify changes in the
taxation of alcohol products:
To single out a particular product or segment range is simply
bad policy unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.
Associate Professor Christopher Doran, Health Economist, NDARC,
commented that Australia's health system suffered from a number of
'idiosyncrasies' in relation to the information or evidence base from which
health policy and outcomes were developed and assessed. He noted that survey data
collection suffered from the multiple data sources, such as the various surveys
which provided different information on distinct populations. Such surveys
generally employed different methodologies, which could lead to conflicting
This view found support in the evidence of Professor Ian Webster, Chair,
Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, who noted:
...emergency admissions data is very crude data and a very poor
indicator of what is actually going on in the community in relation to heavy
drinking or binge drinking. Most binge drinkers do not end up in emergency
departments. The problems of addiction and the mental health problems associated
with it are generally cared for in community settings or by local facilities
and other agencies. So if anything it is sampling a very small tip of the
In terms of improving the quality of health data, Associate Professor
If we increase the sample size...[and] aim for a more
representative survey, we could get a better handle on the risk behaviours of
drinking full stop, and that applies to most other risk factors in Australia as
well—for example, tobacco and cannabis use.
Associate Professor Shakeshaft emphasised the need to improve the
ability to measure the health impacts of such measures as tax increases
through, for example, hospital emergency department presentations. For example,
there were inconsistent or 'haphazard' practices across and within the states
systems in terms of systematically classifying the causes of presentations to
hospital emergency departments.
The Committee notes that its previous inquiries into RTDs and the Alcohol
Toll Reduction Bill provide a significant survey of the state of the evidence
and the views of stakeholders on the harms associated with alcohol, and the
effectiveness of taxation measures in reducing consumption and thereby the
individual harms and social costs associated with risky and high-risk alcohol
consumption. The Committee's conclusions and recommendations around these
issues—particularly those arising from the RTD inquiry—in themselves provide,
and continue to provide, a reasonable basis for the increase to the excise and
customs duty on RTD alcohol products.
The NDRI submission states:
In the context of well-established global evidence of the link
between alcohol price/tax and levels of consumption, and therefore
alcohol-related harm, the Australian Government's April 2008 increase in excise
tax on ready-to-drink (RTD) spirit-based products ('alcopops') was a welcome
evidence-based strategy to reduce excessive RTD consumption amongst young
Finally, the Committee agrees with the view expressed by some submitters
that a respect for evidence based decision making should not prevent action
where a reasonable basis for action is present. Efforts to improve public
health should not be stayed merely for the absence of overwhelming or
inarguable evidence. The PHAA noted that 'some of the most important decisions
on health have been made on limited evidence', including the introduction of
needle and syringe programs in Australia to combat the spread of HIV-AIDS.
The Committee notes that its report into ready-to-drink alcohol
beverages contained a recommendation acknowledging the potential for alcohol
substitution, and supporting the government's commitment to evaluate the
effectiveness of the measure increasing the excise on spirit-based RTDs and all
components of the binge-drinking strategy.
The Committee agrees with the view, expressed by numerous submitters and
witnesses, that definitive statements or conclusions about the effect of the
increase to the excise and customs duty for RTDs on consumption and health are
premature in the absence of more long-term and comprehensive data on alcohol
sales, as well as health-related information on alcohol-related harms.
The inquiry demonstrated the importance of consistent, accurate and
complete data in assessing public health outcomes around alcohol consumption.
Public health bodies in particular stressed the difficulty of analysing
national health policy outcomes with what is often incomplete or inconsistent
data derived across the state and territory health systems.
Alcohol sales data is the most reliable and accurate means of
determining consumption in a community and is fundamental to monitoring and
evaluating the impacts of policy. The Committee is of the view that:
all states and territories should mandate the collection of alcohol
sales data from licensees;
emergency department electronic recording procedures need to be
standardised across the country and allow identification of alcohol-related
events as is currently the case for hospital admissions; and
police reports of violence, road crashes and disorderly offences
should be flagged where alcohol-related.
These data collections could be enhanced by an early warning monitoring
system which regularly assesses consumption and harm among sentinel groups of
young at-risk people across Australia.
The Committee recommends that the government develop strategies to
facilitate the collection and coordination of national public health data to
better inform policy approaches to the reduction of alcohol-related harms.
Notwithstanding its partial and inconclusive nature, the evidence
considered by the Committee did indicate that there has been a significant
reduction in the sales and therefore consumption of RTDs since the tax
increase. While it can be confidently said that substitution has occurred, this
has occurred in the context of falls in the total levels of alcohol
The Committee concluded therefore that the net effect of the tax
increase was a reduction overall in the consumption of alcohol in Australia,
although it was not possible to definitively conclude that this reduction in
consumption had resulted in a reduction in levels of risky and high-risk
consumption of RTDs by young women, leading to improved health outcomes.
However, the Committee notes that, due to the very high levels of
consumption of RTDs by young people generally and young women in particular since
2000, it is reasonable to assume and expect that the significantly reduced
consumption of RTDs reflects reduced consumption in these groups. The Committee
acknowledges the difficulty of assessing both short- and long-term health
outcomes based on consumption rates, but notes the widespread support of health
and drug bodies for the measure, particularly in the context of broader
measures aimed at reducing the incidence and effects of risky and high-risk
drinking. The Committee notes also the previous commitment by the government to
continue to assess the impact of the tax increase.
The Committee recommends that the Senate pass the Bills.
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