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VicHealth proposes increasing the cost of alcohol to tackle alcohol-related harm

VicHealth chief executive Jerril Rechter said bottle shops should close at 10pm. Courtesy: Herald Sun

A Radical plan to jack up alcohol prices and force bars and pubs to close at 2am has been backed by Victoria’s government-funded health promotion authority.

New bottle shops and licensed ­venues could not open in “saturated” areas and alcohol ads during sport on TV would be limited, under VicHealth’s proposal to tackle alcohol-related harm.

The controversial ideas were part of a draft national alcohol strategy, developed by federal and state ministers, which was put on ice after a fierce backlash from drinkers and the $12 billion hospitality industry.

The draft plan proposed a minimum price on alcohol, expected to be $1.50 per standard drink, which would push a slab of VB over $50 and blow the cost of a cask of white wine from $10 to $45.

The Sunday Herald Sun can reveal VicHealth is backing major changes to alcohol taxation, including a volumetric tax on wine and cider.

VicHealth chief executive Jerril Rechter said bottle shops should close at 10pm and “on-premises liquor outlets” — pubs and clubs — should stop trading at 2am.

She also called for alcohol ads to be banned during sports broadcasts in children’s viewing hours, and for tough new restrictions on liquor ­licence applications.

“These three reforms have a strong evidence base to indicate they will have the greatest impact in reducing alcohol harm,” she said.

Ms Rechter congratulated the federal and state ministers for suggesting the alcohol industry be excluded “from any ongoing role in setting or developing alcohol policy”.

That prompted an angry response from industry leaders, with Australian Hotels Association chief executive Stephen Ferguson saying it was a “flawed process” that produced a false, biased and radical plan.

The national alcohol strategy should be finalised by the end of the year after consultation was extended.

Victorian Mental Health Minister Martin Foley has said the state government would consider increasing alcohol prices as part of a broader strategy to tackle alcohol abuse.

But federal Health Minister Greg Hunt maintains he has no plans to change alcohol taxation.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons predicted a 10 per cent increase in alcohol taxes would raise $2.9 billion a year and reduce booze consumption by 9.4 per cent.

The Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association backed pricing reforms, saying there had been a 50 per cent increase in alcohol-related ambulance call-outs between 2012 and 2017.

But the Victorian Farmers Federation warned the tax changes would force up the price of cask wine by as much as 500 per cent, pushing demand down by 85 per cent and hurting local wine makers.