CASH GRAB: latest alcohol tax proposals would hurt our pubs

BAR NONE: Josh Pettman of the Naracoorte Hotel believes the latest alcohol tax hike proposals are unneccessary.
BAR NONE: Josh Pettman of the Naracoorte Hotel believes the latest alcohol tax hike proposals are unneccessary.

If the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) had its way, the discount on draught tap beer would be abolished, and all alcohol would be taxed 10% higher.

These proposals put forward to the Federal government - described as “radical” by the Sydney Morning Herald - have been met with disbelief and disappointment by local publicans.

“It will definitely hurt,” said Josh Pettman, the managing director of the Naracoorte Hotel. 

“It's a tough industry as it is at the moment, we're being hit left, right and centre, and an extra 10% - it's already hard to get people to come out to the hotels to drink and eat.”

For Mr Pettman, and Bushman’s Arms Hotel publican Jack Jennings, lobbyists who call for tax increases misunderstand three essential things about the current drinking culture.

Firstly, for many people, pubs function as social spaces.

Mr Jennings pointed out that staff are trained in the responsible service of alcohol, and do all that they can to create a welcoming environment for patrons. 

Pubs are not only community hubs, but have a legal responsibility to ensure that their patrons don't put themselves - or others - at risk.

This welcoming environment provides a place for people who may not have anywhere else to go, or treat themselves to a drink just once a week. 

The elderly. Widowers. People who have built up friendships that revolve around a bet at the front bar every Saturday.

Mr Jennings is concerned about the increasing trend of people staying home to drink, because it leads to a more isolated society. 

This opinion is shared by Mr Pettman, as he has noticed that more people are going through the bottleshops to drink in a shed, or at home in front of a screen.

“The whole social aspect, people are sitting at home on computers and Facebook, people aren't engaging as much anymore.

“A pub was always about - people would knock off work, get together with friends, talk, that's what it would be about.

“I think that's a thing missed a lot, being social, having a chat, rather than being stuck at home.”

The second issue is that people, particularly younger people, simply aren’t picking up a cold one.

“I think a lot of young people aren't drinking as much,” Mr Pettman said.

“More of them want to get their careers set, and go to uni. When you think back in the day... I think more young people are more switched on these days.”

Mr Pettman’s views are supported by the latest research report to come from Deakin University, which surveyed 41,000 Australian adolescents.

What the report found was that circa 1999-2000, 70% of teens had experimented with alcohol.

In 2015, that figure had dropped sharply to only 45%.

Which leads to the third issue – that the majority of Australians are drinking responsibly. 

“More people are buying boutique beers,” said Mr Pettman. 

“They buy less but spend more on a premium product. That tends to be the trend.”

FARE’s proposals don’t stop at increasing alcohol prices to curb binge drinking, they also want to ban happy hour, an idea Mr Pettman disagrees with.

“There are already a lot of restrictions in place anyway, and I don't see a spike in increased drinking when these happy hours are on.

“It's more about our customers - to get them through the doors, give them back something, to build a bit of loyalty.”

The Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance (ATA) has slammed FARE’s proposals, due to the laws affecting everyone, rather than just the minority of offenders.

“We urge policymakers to adopt measures that genuinely target problem drinkers or problematic drinking behaviour, rather than imposing further taxes on responsible, hard-working Australian adults who deserve a break,” said Satyajeet Marar, the Director of Policy at the ATA.

Mr Pettman wonders where the line will eventually be drawn.

“It's a cash grab I guess, it's the easiest thing to tax, alcohol and cigarettes. I don't know when it stops. Eventually it will kill pubs.

“And we have 40 staff here, it's a big operation, and across Australia, it's a big workforce. So I'd hate to see that drop and go.”