The final report for Western Australia’s Sustainable Health Review finds government considering following the lead of the Northern Territory by introducing a minimum floor price on all alcohol.
WA Deputy Premier and Minister for Health Roger Cook MLA claims significant improvements in the number of alcohol-related hospital visits and crime in the Territory since the legislation was introduced mid-2018 and suggests WA faces a “reckoning” around alcohol consumption and abuse.
“This report puts a range of challenges to government and the community generally around alcohol consumption and we have to be ready to accept those challenges.”
The Territory adopted a unit price of $1.30 per standard drink, most significantly affecting discount wine. A cask previously selling for around $10 increased to close to $30. Prices at venues were typically not affected.
Scotland was the first jurisdiction in the world to introduce the minimum floor price strategy – specifically to combat its ongoing community health issues with alcohol consumption.
Its new rules came into effect in May 2018, mandating a minimum price per standard drink of 50p (presently AU$0.93), with claims by government that the program would save dozens of lives and hundreds of hospital admissions in its first year.
But recently Nielsen analysis found a marginal increase (0.88 per cent) in alcohol sales since the new legislation, as compared to the same period prior. The Times suggest the unusually hot summer and major events including a royal wedding and the World Cup were contributing factors in the increase.
What the figures do suggest is that the highly contentious experiment, only materialising after a protracted battle in the Scottish courts, has not reduced consumption as expected.
The UK’s Academy of Ideas poses that increasing the price of cheap booze merely drives chronic drinkers to simply reduce expenditure on other, potentially vital, aspects of life. It’s suggested alcoholics are quite resistant to price hikes, switching to lesser products until they are “drinking paint thinners”, or moving to other drugs.
“For problem drinkers who self-medicate you just push them on to a different substance, like in Kalgoorlie where methylated spirits with orange juice is the drink of the day, or on to meth.”
The WA government is expected to announce policies arising from the Sustainable Health Review in coming months.