Australia: Big Alcohol Pumps Big Bucks into Politics
Alcohol and other addiction industries are pumping more and more money into Australian politics. The liquor, hotels and gaming lobby made its highest level of donations in seven years in 2017-18. They have pumped more than $1 million into political parties. They don’t discriminate who they fund either, as they’ve given money to Liberal, Labor and even far-right parties.
Alcohol control policy activists have renewed their calls to ban these industries from making federal donations, as it is warping policy and thwarting tax and advertising reforms.
The Australian Hotels Association (AHA) gave $1,013,625 in donations across the political spectrum in 2017-18, donations data shows. It is the highest amount of donations since 2010-11, and is more than 10 times the amount it gave in 2016-17, according to a Guardian Australia analysis.
The Liberal and National parties received the bulk of the money, taking in $619,190 compared with Labor’s $347,213. The AHA gave $38,600 to the Australian Conservatives, $4,480 to One Nation and $3,642 to the Australia party.
Big Alcohol investing big money to thwart alcohol control policy
It is no surprise that these spikes in donations coincide with elections. The recent increase has coincided with the Tasmanian elections, the lead-up to the recent New South Wales election and, the current federal election campaign.
According to a research published in the Drug and Alcohol Review, donations from the gambling, alcohol and tobacco industries were targeted during critical policy debates or immediately before elections. For example, donations increased during debates that threatened to financially impact the industry, including during the alcopops debate – a bill to validate the collection of the increased tax on pre-mixed alcoholic beverages – in 2008 and 2009.
Political parties are accepting funds from Big Alcohol and other addiction industries despite recommendations to ban donations from these industries issued through a Senate inquiry into money and political influence.
…there is a body of evidence from around the world that shows the influence of these harm-causing industries – alcohol, junk food, gambling – is directly related to the amount of regulation, so they are keenly interested in minimising regulation on their industries…
It seems to me that there’s enough evidence on the table to say that [donations] have an effect on the decisions, so therefore our position is that those donations should be banned,” said Michael Thorn, chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (Fare).
Blindsiding the public
The transparency regimes surrounding donations and lobbying are deeply flawed, making it extremely difficult to tell how addiction industries such as AHA may be seeking to influence policy.
The AHA, for instance, is lobbying on behalf of Diageo, based in the UK and Asahi, based in Japan – two of the world’s biggest alcohol producers.
Different Australian governments have repeatedly refused to introduce real-time donations disclosure systems, despite such systems already operating at a state level. Further, any meetings taking place between the AHA and government are and remain hidden from view, because industry front groups are not covered by the lobbyist register and ministerial diaries are not published at a federal level (except in Queensland, NSW and the Australian Capital Territory). This leads to the public being kept in the dark on what sort of links Big Alcohol and other addiction industries have with elected officials and political parties.