Federal budgets are about choices, and in the next budget the Australian government can make the choice to prioritise women, families and communities by supporting initiatives that make a difference to their lives.
There are several ways that they can do this.
They can increase support to family violence services who were underfunded prior to the pandemic and are now dealing with increased demand.
They can increase funding for paid parental leave or early childhood education and care, so that families can be better supported.
They can increase support to alcohol and other drug services, where women are presenting in increased numbers because of the pressures of COVID.
Addressing some of the serious inequities in health, safety and social outcomes for women many of these recommendations were made long before the pandemic.
Instead of having these important initiatives discussed as being part of the agenda, one of the proposals getting increasing media attention is the beer tax cut.
This is a terrible idea.
Decreasing beer taxes would further increase alcohol harm at a time when we are already seeing increases in these harms. This proposal would also result in millions of dollars being gifted to beer companies, rather than being spent on women’s health and community services when support is so desperately needed.
Earlier this week, when a news outlet reported that a beer tax cut would be in the Budget, women’s, community and health advocates raised their disappointment, bewilderment and concern at the impact of this proposal.
Georgie Dent, Executive Director of the Parenthood asked: ‘So spending money on an essential service like early childhood education care is bad, but a tax cut for cheaper beer is good?’
Dr Hesta Wilson, Addiction Specialist, questioned the rationale behind the proposal: ‘Ok so I’m a bit confused, proposed tax cuts will decrease cost of buying draught beer and this is being done to support jobs in pubs- why not support those businesses directly rather that rewarding the alcohol industry broadly – many of whose have made a lovely profit in COVID?’
The truth is that the beer tax cut has nothing to do with COVID. Long before the pandemic, the Brewers Association had been lobbying for a tax cut to benefit the beer companies they are paid to lobby for. They’ve now partnered with their friends in the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) and Clubs Australia to call for a 50 per cent cut to draught beer taxes.
This beer tax cut is estimated to cost the Australian Government more than $150 million per year and there is no indication of how long this will be in place for – so over three years, this could amount to almost half a billion dollars.
The way the beer tax system works is that this benefit would largely go to two multinational beer companies – Lion and Asahi – who control almost three quarters of the beer market in Australia.
So, at a time when women are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 with increases in family violence, increased caring responsibilities and pressures, worsening mental health and increased alcohol use – why are hundreds of millions of dollars going to multinational beer companies?
One suggestion is the power of these lobby groups. Their decades long campaign for beer tax cuts has increased recently using the deep pockets of alcohol corporations.
It has been reported that multinational beer company Lion and the AHA between them donated $389,773 to the Coalition and $290,608 to Labor in 2020-21. This doesn’t consider the other gifts, hospitality and travel provided to politicians by beer companies.
The proposal to cut the beer tax is such a bad idea that more than 80 community, health, family violence and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and leaders strongly opposed cutting the price of alcohol.
They’ve seen firsthand the impact of alcoholic products on injury, disease, and violence – and they’ve also seen the deaths that far too frequently occur. They’ve seen how an additional $3.6 or 29 per cent of alcohol retail sales between 2019 and 2021 flowed into people’s homes fueling more alcohol harm.
Cutting alcohol taxes will further increase harms and the $150 million a year hand out for multinational beer companies should be instead going towards community organisations, early childhood education and care and other programs that benefit communities across Australia.
The increasing news reports that the Australian government is considering an alcohol company tax cut is hugely concerning for the health, wellbeing and safety of Australians.
With Federal budgets being about the choices a government makes – this proposal shows a clear choice not to prioritise the health, wellbeing and safety of women, families and communities across Australia.