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Is the price of alcohol in NSW set to skyrocket?

How cheap should alcohol be? (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
How cheap should alcohol be? (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

If you thought your access to alcohol has been curbed by Sydney’s controversial lock-out laws, it could be curtailed even further by a new proposal that could see alcohol prices quadruple.

As part of its submission to the Sydney’s Night Time Economy Inquiry, an influential group of doctors have pushed for a minimum price on cheap alcohol in order to further prevent alcohol-related violence.

In Sydney’s Kings Cross, alcohol-related non-domestic assaults have reduced by 61 per cent since the city’s lock-out laws were introduced, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) said in a statement.

“While alcohol related violence in Sydney’s CBD and Kings Cross has been drastically reduced – now is not the time for complacency,” said RACP drug and alcohol expert Paul Haber.

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

Among a number of measures proposed by the RACP was the suggestion of imposing a “minimum floor price for alcohol”, whether you’re purchasing from a bottle shop or at a pub, bar or restaurant, meaning there would be a set minimum price for a standard drink.

Such a measure would go further in reducing alcohol-related harm in the state, Haber argued.

“Setting a floor price on alcohol reduces the availability of cheap alcohol, decreasing alcohol consumption and problematic drinking patterns.”

What alcohol would be targeted, and how much will prices go up?

It would be primarily the price of inexpensive alcohol on the chopping block, with price a major factor for why people drink, Haber told the SMH.

"When you have incredibly cheap wine, you facilitate heavy drinking,” he said. "By putting the price of alcohol up, people will drink less especially before they go out at night."

For example, a box of cask wine, more colloquially known as goon, would contain 40 standard drinks and sell for $13 at large retailers, meaning every standard drink would cost only 32 cents.

But a new minimum floor price of $1.30 per drink – as it has been the case in Tasmania since October last year – would see the box of cask wine go for $52, four times the current price.

More expensive wines and other forms of alcohol would be less affected as their selling price would likely already be higher than a minimum floor price.

Alcohol-related violence or assault also adds pressure on services such as hospitals, Haber pointed out.

“We know that the rates of alcohol consumption in Australia are contributing to a significant disease burden for individuals and our health services.”

Will the price hike happen?

At the moment, the proposal is just part of RACP’s submission into the inquiry into Sydney’s night-time economy, where a joint select committee will be reviewing submissions from supporters and opponents of the lock-out laws.

But the RACP’s proposal is not unheard of: Tasmania introduced a minimum floor price of $1.30 per drink last year in order to curtail the rate of alcohol-related harm, the ABC reported.

Is it a good idea to raise alcohol prices?

It doesn’t seem like the Berejiklian government is keen on the idea, though: acting NSW Premier and NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro has dismissed RACP’s proposal as a “thought bubble”, according to the SMH.

"This is a poorly thought-out idea that will have little impact on our consumer behaviour but have a huge impact on industries from wine grape growers to local pubs and clubs," he said.

"During the worst drought in living memory, the last thing our primary producers need is a bunch of academics telling people how to live their lives and hurting our already struggling farmers in the process.”

At the end of May, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian ordered a review of the Sydney lock-out laws and a cross-party committee to revisit the laws.

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