At last a trigger is coming. It has been a while coming but Labor will have its double dissolution trigger soon enough. The resubmitted alcopops tax legislation will be voted down in the Senate whenever the Government chooses to put it to the vote unless Family First Senator Steve Fielding has a surprising change of heart. Not that such a vote is likely to be early. The rather weird way these excise tax proposals work is that the extra tax is collected from the day legislation is introduced in to Parliament not from the day the legislation is passed. Between the introduction and the final vote there can be a gap of up to a year which is what happened to the initial tax increase on pre-mixed spirits contained in last year’s budget.

The hundreds of millions collected over the last 12 months, now safely in the Treasury coffers, in theory should be refunded to those that paid it given that the rise did not become law. The Government, however, will introduce a separate piece of legislation to enable it to be kept instead of being handed back to the spirits industry. This will present the Liberal-National coalition, and Senator Fielding, with an interesting dilemma. Passing this special bill will effectively mean they have supported the tax after all; voting against it will present the liquor industry with a substantial bonus because there is no practical way of directing the money back to those individual consumers who actually paid it.

And while that is being sorted out there will be no price reduction in alcopops because the collection process will start over again. It has hardly been a victory for the Opposition and certainly not for the spirits industry.

When Smirnoff is not vodka. And while the government has the subject of sweet and fizzy alcoholic drinks on its agenda it should be changing the excise definition of what constitutes a beer to stop the substitution of brewed alcohol for distilled alcohol as a way of getting around the law. Already consumers are being conned by one variety of Smirnoff in an alcopop not containing vodka, with the alcohol content coming from a brewing process. When the spirits giants realise they will not be getting the price reduction they thought they had obtained from the Senate vote this practice will rapidly spread unless the loophole is closed Calling in the ACCC to take action against Smirnoff for misleading consumers would not be a bad idea either.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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