Drastic plan to lift alcohol prices

A POWERFUL medical association has called for a minimum price for alcohol to be introduced to discourage people from binge-drinking cheap booze.

The Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP) wants current lockout laws in Sydney restricting the sale of alcohol and limiting the operation of nightclubs to not only be retained but strengthened.

In a submission to a NSW parliamentary review of the controversial laws, the group also proposes a number of new measures, including a floor price on alcohol.

The group said alcohol-related violence had "drastically reduced" in trouble spots like Kings Cross and the CBD in the five years since lockout laws were introduced.

"Now is not the time for complacency," RACP's drug and alcohol expert Professor Paul Haber said.

"Instead, we should be talking about more ways we can strengthen our laws to protect the community from other forms of alcohol-related harm."

That includes considering a bottle shop's stock density as part of liquor licensing and introducing a minimum price for alcohol.

The RACP wants to implement a floor price for alcohol, setting a minimum cost per drink standard in NSW.
The RACP wants to implement a floor price for alcohol, setting a minimum cost per drink standard in NSW.

For example, significantly inexpensive wine sold in bulk quantities could facilitate heavy drinking, and Prof Haber believes raising the price of some products is essential.

Take a box of cask wine - four litres sells for around $13 at chain bottle shops, which equates to 40 standard drinks at a cost of 30 cents per glass.

"We know that the rates of alcohol consumption in Australia are contributing to a significant disease burden for individuals and our health services," Prof Haber said.

"Alcohol use contributes to the burden of 30 diseases and injuries, including alcohol use disorders, eight types of cancer, chronic liver disease and 12 types of injury, predominantly road traffic injuries, suicide and self-inflicted injuries."

As well as restricting nightclub operations, the lockout laws also cover the sale of alcohol at bottle shops..
As well as restricting nightclub operations, the lockout laws also cover the sale of alcohol at bottle shops..

The Northern Territory introduced an alcohol floor price last year, requiring a minimum standard drink equivalent cost of $1.30.

In the RACP's example, such a move in NSW would increase the cost of cask wine to about $52 from the current cost of $13.

Prof Haber believes implementing a floor price on alcohol would discourage excessive drinking and ultimately change "problematic" behaviours.

Opponents of Sydney’s controversial lockout laws say they have gone too far and killed the night-time economy. Picture: David Swift.
Opponents of Sydney’s controversial lockout laws say they have gone too far and killed the night-time economy. Picture: David Swift.

A review of Sydney's controversial lockout laws is under way, with a cross-party parliamentary committee examining submissions from supporters and opponents.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in May the committee would examine the balance of maintaining and enhancing health outcomes with supporting the city's economy.

"After five years of operation, it makes sense for us to now take stock and examine whether any further changes should be made," Ms Berejiklian said.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party leader Rob Borsak has called for the laws to be scrapped altogether - a call supported by the Greens.

A number of other business groups say the laws have gone too far and hurt the city's night-time economy and cultural vibrancy.

A number of bars and clubs have closed in Kings Cross and the CBD since the lockout laws were introduced in 2014. Picture: Gordon McComiskie
A number of bars and clubs have closed in Kings Cross and the CBD since the lockout laws were introduced in 2014. Picture: Gordon McComiskie

But the advocacy group Last Drinks, made up of doctors and allied health workers, said weakening existing laws would cost lives.

"The facts are clear. Sydney's successful alcohol laws have saved lives and prevented thousands of injuries," the campaign's spokesman Dr Tony Sara said.

"There is absolutely no doubt the laws have significantly reduced major alcohol-related injuries in both Kings Cross and the CBD. St Vincent's Hospital has seen a 24.8 per cent reduction of seriously injured patients during high alcohol periods and a 50 per cent reduction in serious head injuries between 8pm and 8am."

Dr Sara said instances of sexual and indecent assaults had declined by 50 per cent in Kings Cross.

The committee is due to report back to parliament by the end of September.



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