6% alcohol limit for RTDs dumped

JUDITH COLLINS: Justice Minister.
JUDITH COLLINS: Justice Minister.

The liquor industry has scored a win over the planned regulation of RTDs in the Government's alcohol reform package.

Justice Minister Judith Collins yesterday revealed she had dumped an earlier plan to ban the sale of ''RTDs'' (ready-to-drink) with more than 6 per cent alcohol content from off-license stores.

Alcohol reforms initially announced by former Justice Minister Simon Power originally included a ban on RTDs with 5 per cent alcohol or more from off-licenses.

Collins announced in May that would move to 6 per cent but she has backed away from a statutory ban completely.

Instead, the bill will include a ''regulation-making power'' for the Government to restrict the sale of RTDs in future. Until the powers are exercised, however, RTD sales will be left to work under the industry's own code.

''The Government has decided to give the alcohol industry the opportunity to introduce its own measures to limit the harm to young people caused by RTDs,'' Collins said.

''The industry has offered to put in place a voluntary code on RTDs. If the industry measures are ineffective, Government has the ability to take action through a regulation-making power in the bill. This allows restrictions on the sale of RTDs at any time in the future.''

After announcing her proposed ban on 6 per cent RTDs at bottle stores in May, Collins faced strong criticism from then Distilled Spirits Association chief executive Thomas Chin, who said there would be ''very serious trade implications'' if the ban was carried out.

Chin suggested objections to the ban could be raised through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and a spokeswoman for the Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade Department confirmed officials were studying a draft of New Zealand's liquor law changes.

Collins rejected those claims and said the move to a regulation-making power instead of a ban was prompted by an offer from the industry.

"The industry approached me and said they would like to actually have a chance at putting in an industry wide, voluntary code. I said to them, 'that sounds great but how do I know you'd stick to it?'. The way that I'd know that they would stick to it is that I put in regulation-making power which would mean that Cabinet can work very quickly to get legislation through in a matter of weeks."

The association promised in April to:

- Limit the production and distribution of new RTDs to a maximum of two ''standard drinks'' per single container.
- Show clearly the number of ''standard drinks'' on each container.
- Ensure no RTDs have ''specific appeal to minors''.
- Comply with the Code for Advertising Liquor, administered by the Advertising Standards Authority.
- ''Invest and support'' responsible drinking educational programmes.

Collins said the new code the industry would adopt was still being worked on and she would not require any particular features.

"I'm not telling them what to put in their code because I've told them to come up with their very best shot at it because otherwise there is the regulation-making power," Collins said.

"I'm not going get fooled in to telling them exactly what to put in it. I want them to come up with the best one so that we can hold off doing regulations."

Fairfax Media