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Liquor industry put above local communities again

Wednesday 5 September, 2012

Rates Bill weakens local councils' ability to tackle cost of alcohol

A Bill set to pass State Parliament within days threatens one of the few tools local councils have to manage the impact and costs of alcohol on their communities, according to a coalition of health agencies.

Professor Robin Room from the Alcohol Policy Coalition (APC) said the Local Government Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 is a step in the wrong direction as it virtually removes the ability of local councils to implement differential rates for businesses, such as alcohol outlets, that are known to be harmful and create further costs to the community.

Professor Room said "Alcohol outlets, especially large outlets and late night venues, have a significant impact on local communities in terms of litter, bodily waste, noise, and property damage, and the costs from dealing with this falls to councils and their ratepayers. A differential rate system currently enables a number of councils in Victoria to recover the cost of dealing with these recurring problems.

"Passing this Bill is a blatant contradiction of the government‟s own reforms in April last year. At that time it appeared to signal support for increasing council and local community control in managing alcohol issues when it ended the exemption for packaged liquor outlets from planning permit requirements," said Professor Room.

The Bill will remove the ability of local councils to set differential rates, instead they must refer to a 'Ministerial Guideline' that will outline the types of businesses and classes of land use that are appropriate for differential rates. These Guidelines are yet to be developed.

The recent Victorian Auditor-General‟s Report into the effectiveness of the state‟s alcohol policies recommended that the government provide increased support and guidance for local councils around alcohol issues.

John Rogerson, CEO of the Australian Drug Foundation, said the Bill flies in the face of the Auditor-General's recommendations.

"Alcohol costs the Victorian community an estimated $4.3 billion each year. Local responses are important; they give citizens a democratic opportunity to address issues that cause harms in their own communities.

"We call on the government to maintain its support for Victorian councils and local communities that are struggling to cope with the mess and disruption that alcohol causes in their local area every week. It's critical that any Ministerial Guidelines developed to implement the legislative change retain councils' ability to set differential rates to manage the impact of alcohol in their communities," Mr Rogerson said.

The Alcohol Policy Coalition is a collaboration of health agencies – Australian Drug Foundation, Cancer Council Victoria, and Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre – with shared concern relating to the misuse of alcohol and its health / social impacts on the community.