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Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs
Harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
House of Reps
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Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs
CHAIR (Dr Stone)
Snowdon, Warren, MP
Perrett, Graham, MP
Van Manen, Bert, MP
Neumann, Shayne, MP
Price, Melissa, MP
Ramsey, Rowan, MP
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Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs
(House of Reps-Thursday, 4 December 2014)
Content WindowStanding Committee on Indigenous Affairs - 04/12/2014 - Harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
THOMAS, Mr Andrew, Head of Government Relations and Industry, Woolworths Limited
WILSMORE, Mr Andrew, Manager, Public Affairs, Woolworths Liquor Group
Committee met at 11:13 .
CHAIR ( Dr Stone ): I now declare open this public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs Inquiry into the harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and pay our respects to the elders past and present. Welcome, everybody here today.
I would like you to note that these meetings are formal proceedings of parliament. Everything said should be factual and honest and it can be considered a serious matter to attempt to mislead the committee. This hearing is open to the public and is being audio-broadcast live via the internet. A transcript of what is said will be placed on the committee's website.
I now welcome representatives of Woolworth Limited to address the committee. Would either of you, Mr Thomas or Mr Wilsmore, like to make an opening statement?
Mr Thomas : Thanks very much. I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which meet today. Thank you for the opportunity of appearing here before you today to contribute to your inquiry. In particular, I would like to thank the committee and the secretariat for accommodating a change in the program to facilitate our appearance today. Woolworths Liquor Group, through its BWS and Dan Murphy's stores, is represented in most significant sized communities in Australia. We serve communities in most remote locations, including towns such as Derby, Katherine and Nhulunbuy, where we operate the only major supermarket in town. In all of these locations, we attempt to strike a balance between serving the legitimate needs of the majority of our customers and mitigating the undoubtable risk that the product we sell may cause harm to vulnerable individuals and communities if abused.
In my opening remarks, I would like to briefly outline the key aspects of our responsible service policies, including some specific policies we have implemented with regard to Indigenous communities. But, before I do so, I would just like to touch on some of the efforts by Woolworths in terms of Indigenous employment and providing opportunities to Indigenous communities. Woolworths is very proud of its strong record of Indigenous employment. In this year's employment engagement survey, over 2,000 employees from across Woolworths businesses identified themselves as Indigenous. We are working with external partners on pre-employment programs in communities to create the best opportunities for potential employees to gain retail skills and prepare to enter the workforce. Over the past two years, our partnerships with organisations such as Diversity Dimensions and Globally Make a Difference have delivered employment opportunities for almost 900 Indigenous workers. In addition, Woolworths Liquor Group is partnering with the Jawun Indigenous Community Secondment Program to help Indigenous communities, providing skilled corporate secondees. We are also a member of Supply Nation, a body dedicated to growing diversity within the supply chain. We use telephone services provided by Message Stick, a business supported by Supply Nation. Woolworths also supports Indigenous communities such as Kalano Farm, a commercial tomato-growing operation in the Northern Territory which supplies supermarkets and is a past recipient of funding from our Fresh Food Future program.
I would like to now just briefly outline some of our responsible serving policies. Woolworths Liquor Group takes its role as a retailer of alcohol very seriously. We strive to be the industry leader and a responsible retailer of liquor and devote considerable time, money and other resources to provide the infrastructure, systems and strategies to ensure that the alcohol we sell is sold responsibly and in some cases to our competitive and profitable detriment. In doing this, we have initiated and implemented several harm minimisation strategies. We provide industry-leading in-house training for our staff. We have industry-leading standards for the responsible service of alcohol. We ensure the responsible marketing of alcohol, through compliance with the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code. We are a strong supporter of campaigns to support the responsible use of alcohol, through organisations such as DrinkWise. And we work with communities to ensure our service is appropriate for the community in which we operate.
Woolworths Ltd has continued to seek to play a leadership role, launching a community charter on responsible service just last month. I think the members of the committee would have all received a copy of this in the mail, with a letter from the Woolworths Liquor Group managing director. The primary focus of our community commitment campaign is to communicate Woolworths Liquor Group's responsible drinking commitment to consumers and to encourage our consumers to participate in responsible drinking practices. This campaign has also focused on increased training and awareness-raising among our team, across all of our stores. Our commitment campaign is also supported by bold and attention-grabbing brochures, badges and signage in Dan Murphy's and BWS stores across the country to remind staff and customers of their shared responsibilities.
The community charter is not the total of our activities in responsible service; we are also active members in the community and participate in, and financially support, all community liquor accords in areas where we operate.
Woolworths Liquor Group has also taken a number of actions to address specific concerns in Indigenous communities. In addition to legislated requirements, there are a number of examples where we have instituted voluntary restrictions after community consultations: we were the first retailer in the Northern Territory to remove cask wine from sale; we frequently modify trading hours following ad hoc requests from the police; we were the first retailer to remove low-priced bottled wines from sale in remote areas; and we tailor promotion restrictions on a region-by-region basis in an effort to reduce harm. In total, we have additional restrictions in over 70 stores in locations that have warranted a high degree of harm-minimisation measures—many of which are representatives from Indigenous communities. Thank you very much for your time and we look forward to your questions.
CHAIR: Thanks, Mr Thomas. Do you want to make a comment as well, Mr Wilsmore?
Mr Wilsmore : No.
CHAIR: We will go to questions. I am just wondering how many of us in our committee did get in the mail that community charter that Mr Thomas referred to?
Mr Thomas : It was mailed to all members of parliament.
CHAIR: Perhaps you could send us through another set of copies, because no-one has much recollection of receiving it.
Mr Thomas : I would be very happy to do that.
CHAIR: We know from very well researched information, both internationally and domestically, that packaged outlet density is positively associated with rates of assault, violence, domestic violence, chronic disease and heavy episodic drinking. Given that Woolworths Liquor Group has had an extraordinary increase in the number of liquor outlets—it has grown by over 1,000 per cent, from 120 in 1998 to 1,402 in 2013, and your sales have increased from $2.1 billion in 2004 to $7.4 billion in 2013, and that is just for liquor—I am wondering, and given what we know about the density of outlets and the association with high-risk drinking, across Australia but in Indigenous communities as well, how you reconcile that. You have mentioned you have 70 stores with restrictions; has there ever been a time when you have said, 'We're actually not going to open another outlet in Alice Springs,' or in some other community where there is a serious problem of high-risk drinking?
Mr Thomas : It is correct that the Woolworths Liquor Group has seen significant growth over a period from a very low base. As we have done that, and as I sought to outline, we have sought to be the industry leader in terms of responsible service. That has seen us restrict our business activities—at times to the detriment of our bottom line. We take very seriously our commitment to the communities we work in—that we will obviously seek to supply customers who want to go about purchasing our products in their everyday life, but also seek to minimise the harm through the way we engage with the community. That has seen restrictions; these restrictions range from not selling cask wines to putting price floors on things and reducing trading hours. We have also, at the request of the community and the police at times, closed our stores when it was felt that there would be particular concerns. We have taken particular products off shelves when it has been seen that they have the potential to cause concern.
Of course, when there is a series of issues, we will take that into account when looking at where we would seek to put a store. Our aim is to serve our customers as best we can but, in doing that, we will also take account of what the broader community concerns and interests are when making those decisions.
CHAIR: Could you provide us with the details of where those 70 stores are that you referred to which have restrictions, and give us, if it is not too hard—
Mr Thomas : I can walk you through some of it now and we can get the details—
CHAIR: We have a lot of questions we want to ask you, so if you can send that to us: where are those stores with restrictions; when were the restrictions on or off, if they are not current; and what are the types of restrictions you have had in those places? We are very keen to see what works and what does not work, obviously.
Mr Thomas : Do you want me to give you a little bit of a flavour, and we can give you the detail after? I think it might be useful as we go through the discussion if we give you a bit of an overview of that. I think it gives you a flavour of how we do it.
CHAIR: I am conscious that we have limited time—
Mr Thomas : I understand. So we—
CHAIR: and written material is very, very useful.
Mr Thomas : Yes. As I said, we have more than 70 sites with restrictions. Most of those sites would be covered by voluntary restrictions, but there are also some specifically legislated restrictions in those. That includes all sites in the Northern Territory; we have 15 stores in the Northern Territory. There are about 16 stores in WA and 36 in Queensland, and then there are a small number in New South Wales. I think both SA and Victoria have one site each. The restrictions vary quite considerably across these stores. Some of them will be simple restrictions on when the store opens—so we will try and delay opening in the morning, in part due to the interaction between package store business and on licence. There are other bits and pieces. As I have said, we have done things like blankets bans across the whole of the Northern Territory in terms of cask wine. We have in certain places put limits, so we will not sell bottled wine under a certain price. We have put limits on promotions of certain kinds of wines. We put limits on the amount people can purchase in some sites. There are quite a range. And these will nearly always come about through consultation with the community. It is sitting down with the community and seeing what the concerns are about particular products or times or marketing and trying to best target those—
CHAIR: These are Indigenous communities?
Mr Thomas : Generally they are Indigenous. There will be cases where there might be a broader concern, not Indigenous specific. But I think it is fair to say that the vast bulk of these would relate to concerns in Indigenous communities.
CHAIR: You talked about the training for responsible alcohol retailing that you put your employees through. Does that include references to pregnancy and alcohol consumption?
Mr Thomas : Yes. We aim to have a pretty comprehensive training program. We actually do a lot of our training in-house. Most of the training that is in the market is designed for people who work in an on-licence business, and we do not think that is appropriately tailored to what our businesses do, which is package sales. So we do in-house training, which goes through our myriad responsible service requirements—things like not serving under-age people but, more to the point, requiring ID from anyone who looks 25. It goes through a series of other bits and pieces in terms of appropriate service, and we have refresher courses and the like.
CHAIR: Could we see a copy of that, because we would be interested to see any references to the issue of foetal alcohol spectrum, or FAS, which is of course the subject of two of our key terms of reference for our inquiry, and is in particular a problem with Indigenous risky drinking.
Mr Thomas : Understood. It will be part of that training course. The other thing we do in this area is we have labelling on all of our own products in that regard and we encourage people who supply us solely to do the same thing.
CHAIR: You are talking about your home-brand alcohol?
Mr Thomas : Yes, our own products. We also have point-of-sale labelling and we have supported the distribution of information through medical practitioners, through DrinkWise, in this space. We acknowledge that this is a challenge. We also acknowledge that there is only so much we can do as a retailer and we think this needs to be part of a broader community effort. That is why our efforts to educate people are through both labelling, point of sale, and engaging with the medical fraternity—in our case, through DrinkWise. We think, if we are going to make inroads here, it cannot really rest with any single body. It has to be part of a community program.
CHAIR: Thank you. Mr Snowdon?
Mr SNOWDON: Andrew, I have a bag of questions that I could ask. You have talked about restrictions at alcohol outlets. Do you have any knowledge of the experience of Woolworths with the banned drinkers register in the Northern Territory?
Mr Thomas : I have a bit of knowledge. Andrew Wilsmore might be able to talk about it a little bit further. We worked very closely with the Northern Territory government to introduce this. There were obviously some logistical components to doing it, but we felt that we had that in place. In reality it probably was not in for long enough for us to give the committee a good indication of whether it was working or not. It is a difficult thing. Andrew—probably everyone here—would know better than I do. I think it was only in for about a six-month period. It was not particularly long.
From our point of view, and without talking to the specifics of the actual program, we would think there is a lot of merit in what we would call targeted programs. This is a challenge that is huge for a part of the community, but we think it is very important, as much as we can, to try to target programs to where the problem lies and not seek to address it through blanket programs. We thought it potentially fit into that category of trying to address directly the specific problem and targeting where the problem drinking was occurring. That said, I reiterate that we do not feel that we saw it run for long enough to be able to talk to the specifics of the actual program.
Mr SNOWDON: At the moment you have police outside liquor outlets in Alice Springs. What impact has that had on the way in which your service has been running?
Mr Thomas : I do not have specific knowledge of that.
Mr Wilsmore : It certainly improved for our staff. As it is targeting some of where the harm is occurring, it is leading to a better service environment for both our customers and our staff.
Mr SNOWDON: Can I ask you about your attitude to taxation of liquor. You mentioned that you have put artificial floor prices in, and I know that has happened in Alice Springs. Do you have an overall view about the issue of floor pricing of alcohol and/or volumetric taxing of alcohol, changes in the taxation regime of alcohol to make it less accessible to some people? The data tells us very clearly that price is a key determinant of people's consumption and what they consume.
Mr Thomas : First off I would like to stress that as a business we will operate within whatever taxation regime the government deems appropriate and therefore do not actually have a specific comment to make about different tax regimes. Maybe I could make some broader points around the issue of price and taxation. The first point is that price measures are a reasonably blunt instrument. As I said, we would probably be more inclined to support measures that are targeted directly at where the problem lies and not have something that perhaps is going to reach across the entire community rather than just targeted at where the problem drinking occurs. If you have a tax change or a price law or the like, you are also putting cost-of-living pressures on the broader community.
Mr SNOWDON: Or you might be forcing a change of behaviour.
Mr Thomas : You might be forcing a change of behaviour. But that change of behaviour may not simply be a reduction in consumption; it may be moved to other products, whether they be alcohol or otherwise.
Mr SNOWDON: Tobacco gives us a pretty good indication of how consumption patterns can change by increasing price.
Mr Thomas : They can, but we also know that we can see substitution as well in different markets. I think there are also challenges—and this is definitely not my area of expertise—once you get into a situation where people are addicted or are at a stage of abusing a product; it is not clear that they are as receptive to price changes as we might think of as normal. I am an economist by trade, and we think of supply and demand curves, but, typically, once you get into situations where people have a dependency on a product, they are reasonably demand-inelastic. It is not clear that price has, or will have, a particularly effective response. In our experience—and it is hard sometimes to unpick all the data—we do not see a compelling case that price then leads to a clear-cut reduction in consumption and a clear-cut reduction, particularly, in areas where we think the harm might be occurring.
Mr SNOWDON: I think that conflicts with the evidence, because there is plenty of published evidence which shows that price—
CHAIR: We can supply you with that evidence if you would like. There are masses of it.
Mr Wilsmore : There will be a reduction in overall demand. The challenge with the minimum price policy is that that reduction will largely come from moderate drinkers. The ones for whom you are actually trying to reduce harm, which are your harmful-level consumers, are reasonably price-inelastic. We see it already in cases with sly-groggers in the Northern Territory. People are willing to pay $700 for a bottle of spirits. There is a point where you really do need to think of price as to exactly how high you go. Australia is already one of the highest taxed countries in the world when it comes to alcohol taxation.
CHAIR: But has some of the lowest taxes on alcohol.
Mr Wilsmore : In what case, sorry?
CHAIR: You were suggesting we have some of the highest taxes on alcohol in the world.
Mr Wilsmore : Yes, that is right.
CHAIR: In the case of light beer on tap, it is 0.04, which is the tax on a standard drink of alcohol. I am just disputing your statement that we are the highest taxing country of alcohol in the world. It is not the case.
Mr SNOWDON: We will disagree on this; that is very clear. So we should not pursue it any longer. But I do want to ask you some questions about consumption patterns. I think you mentioned there were 75 outlets where there are restrictions. Are you able to give us a guide as to what products are consumed out of those premises?
Mr Thomas : I am not sure if we are in a position to give that here. We might look at what we can do in that space.
Mr SNOWDON: I know Woolworths has changed its behaviour, but no so long ago I could walk into the Katherine Woolworths and buy wine more cheaply than I could buy orange juice. So there is a history, and it is not a good one. There is a great deal of concern in the community about access to alcohol and the way it is being consumed. For example, we were in Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing and we were told there are alcohol restrictions and management restrictions at Halls Creek but people were flouting them by going to the outlets in Kununurra and just buying huge quantities of alcohol and driving them back. One of the advantages of the banned drinkers register, in a regional sense, is, if it was applied, you could prevent people buying that alcohol, because the people who were purchasing it would be on the register—so that is an issue. You must have data on how consumption patterns have changed with different legislative arrangements and different restrictions. I would be interested in knowing if you can provide that to us. I take what you said, Andrew, about having community driven responses. You are presumably then okay, if a community drives an alcohol management plan with restrictions, about allowing those restrictions to proceed?
Mr Thomas : I think we have got a reasonably good track record in terms of working with community groups to try and come up with a set of policies that are appropriate for the community. As I said in my opening remarks, there is always a balance to be had here. The vast bulk of our customers are purchasing and consuming alcohol in a responsible way and we do have a responsibility to meet that demand, but we seek to do that in a way that does not have adverse consequences for other elements of the community.
Mr SNOWDON: I am interested in your observations about labelling and I am pleased with your assertions about Woolworths' labelling of your own product. What pressure can you apply on suppliers to make sure they label?
CHAIR: And conspicuously label.
Mr SNOWDON: There are suppliers who supply you or export product overseas. They have to have a label on their product, but they supply you without a label. How hard is it for you to insist that there is a label?
Mr Wilsmore : There are laws against it. Third line forcing is probably the one that the ACCC would come after us on. That said, we do have a guide—
Mr PERRETT: Chair, can I add to this?
Mr PERRETT: I quote from your webpage, where you say:
As a responsible retailer of alcoholic beverages, we go beyond regulatory compliance to help protect individuals and society from harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
I would be interested in you detailing how you 'go beyond' in terms of labelling, particularly when it comes to women who might be pregnant and consuming alcohol.
Mr Thomas : I think the first point to make in terms of labelling is that we meet and exceed all requirements. In the specific case of the potential damage during pregnancy, we put labelling on all our own products. We also seek to work with suppliers to have it put on their products. That is easier done when they are supplying specifically to us.
Mr PERRETT: You control 40 per cent of the market. If tomorrow you said, 'We won't accept it until you have one per cent of the bottle covered by that label, by that pictogram,' that would happen overnight. I can assure you of that. You have 40 per cent of the market. And I think you and Coles have 60 per cent of the market.
Mr Thomas : There are always challenges in us dictating to our suppliers what they need to deliver for their relationship with their consumers as well. We need to be careful in how we go about that, but we do work with our suppliers and encourage them to do so. As I was saying, where they are supplying specifically to us, and therefore the labelling is exclusively for our stores, it is much easier for us to go through that process. It becomes very difficult when you have a very small supplier who might do a very small run. I think these are the kinds of suppliers that most people in Australia would like to see a business like ours support. If they are doing a small run with one set of labels and those labels are going not only to a domestic market but also to an international market, there are challenges around that. Before we start saying that you can have a blanket application for a single retailer in the industry, we have to understand the consequences.
Mr PERRETT: Your own guidelines tell your shareholders that you go beyond compliance. Surely, to keep faith with your shareholders, you would have to do what you say and go beyond the regulatory compliance.
Mr Thomas : I am comfortable that we are going beyond the regulatory compliance in a number of areas in this space. As I have outlined, this goes right through all aspects of our business. We have talked about the number of stores we put restrictions on and most of those restrictions are voluntary, after working with the community. So I think that is beyond regulatory compliance. In terms of labelling, we do have aspects of the labelling. In terms of the training of our staff, our in-store point of sale indicators, a lot of that is beyond what is required of us by law. So, in that sense, I think we live up to what we have put out in our documentation. We are very serious about being seen as the best and most responsible server of alcohol in the Australian community.
Mr VAN MANEN: Through you, Chair, can I request that you provide us with a copy of the labelling that you have on your products and a comparison copy of the label that just meets regulatory requirements so that we have a visual perspective of that. Given the broader aspect of the Woolies business and some of the feedback we get on other committees about the way that Woolies and Coles conduct themselves more generally with suppliers in the market, I find it passing strange that you have any reticence to put some pressure on your suppliers to bring their labelling up to your requirements, given that you readily put pressure on suppliers of a number of areas in your business. Those are my initial comments.
I will follow that with a question, which is more to do with the marketing and advertising of alcohol. In a submission to Liverpool council in support of a proposed Dan Murphy store, you make the comment: 'Early exposure to any form of advertising is vital to protect young minds against the seductive powers of capitalism'. What, then, are you doing to ensure that, with your advertising programs for your liquor outlets, you minimise exposure of young minds to alcohol advertising?
Mr Thomas : We seek to comply with the ABAC, the industry code in this space, which goes through a number of things in terms of how you appropriately market and has a number of principles and a number of hurdles that you have to get over in sales not being attractive to young people. I think the other thing, beyond the marketing side of it and adherence to those, is that in our stores in a number of cases we have not sold other people's products which we think are deliberately targeted at or attractive to young users, basically, but also people who might be using them in an abusive way. Also, at the point of sale we have a number of things in place to try and ensure that we are not selling to underage people. As I noted before, not only are we complying with the law in not selling to under-18s; also, if you look 25 we will ask for ID. If we have any expectation or suspicion that someone is seeking to buy for an underage person, we will also not sell. So there are a number of steps, at the marketing level and in the store, where we seek to do that.
Mr VAN MANEN: Do you restrict the times during which you run television advertising to minimise the risk of advertising at a time when children would be watching TV?
Mr Wilsmore : There is a placement code for free TV that restricts the viewing times—after 9 pm or during sporting events is when you are allowed to advertise for alcoholic beverages and products.
Mr VAN MANEN: I would suggest there would be more than a few children watching a sporting event.
Mr Wilsmore : The analysis that is generally undertaken of sporting events by people who do the review of this research shows that the viewing percentage of those who watch sport during the day, in comparison to those who watch television after 9 pm, is roughly the same. The percentage of young people is fairly similar. It is actually not that many.
Mr SNOWDON: Can you see the contradiction? We are advertising our sporting heroes at the same time as alcohol.
CHAIR: It is part of our culture we have to deal with, isn't it?
Mr NEUMANN: You mention a number of times in statements in relation to responsible retailing of alcohol beverages that you are committed to reflecting and upholding community standards. How do you measure those? You have mentioned that a number of times.
Mr Thomas : I think there are a number of things. Probably the best way of talking about that is that, when you go, say, specifically to Indigenous communities, I think the key there is working with the local accords and the community groups. We are involved in all accords in markets in which we operate and, typically, we will have the store manager participate in those. They will go along and work with the police, community groups, local politicians and the like on what the community expectations are. We then subsequently adapted our offer in the market to reflect those community concerns. For this committee, I think that is the most compelling example for us. More broadly, we have a number of codes that go to how we operate, and they are drawn from our understanding of engaging with the broader community and working through what people's expectations are.
Mr NEUMANN: On the evidence that you have given today, I was a bit surprised about that. In the past you have talked about advertising, education and health related treatment of this issue. Today, you seem to be emphasising that you are also supportive of some sort of supply-side restrictions. Is that what you are saying—that you are also supportive of that aspect in the minimisation of harm in Indigenous communities?
Mr Thomas : From our point of view the most effective policies will be ones that are evidence based and are very targeted. Our point here would be that we are talking about a very significant problem but in a relatively small part of the community and therefore the best way to address that would be targeted. In that sense, it is why we do work within specific communities to try to reflect community concerns, and at times that will relate to supply related changes. We would just caution the committee in that we are not always seeing the kind of evidence that others will try to suggest in terms of response, and we are not sure that a supply response will always lead to the minimisation in harm that we are ultimately trying to achieve.
So, we are just saying, 'Just a word of caution.' We are just not sure that it will always follow that if you have a price change or the like then you will see the corresponding reduction in harm that you think might flow from that. We will see shifts in sales. We will get reports back from communities about people moving to other suppliers—dare I say less reputable suppliers—or to other products. Price is a very blunt instrument. A lot of supply-side constraints are pretty blunt instruments and therefore are not actually particularly targeted—
Mr NEUMANN: You have mentioned a lot about what is happening in remote and regional communities, but by far the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live around Sydney and Brisbane. There are more people in the Brisbane metropolitan area who are from an Indigenous background than there are in the whole of the Northern Territory. What specifically are you doing in relation to those major areas where most Indigenous people actually live?
Mr Thomas : We do have restrictions in stores that are not in remote communities. It becomes much more difficult for supply-side responses in communities where people can easily get around those supply-side responses. If we were to restrict in one store or two stores in Sydney, it would not be hard for someone to get around those restrictions by jumping on a train and going to the next stop to buy from the next store. The other point I would make is that our overall approach in terms of responsible service is also part of our armoury, if you will, in terms of responsible service to the community. In terms of making sure that we are not serving people who are clearly intoxicated or serving people who are clearly buying for someone else or serving people who are underage and the like, there are things that flow right across our network which I think are important. I think we have put some things in in more populated areas, if you will, but I think there is a point at which there is a limitation on what you can achieve through supply.
Ms PRICE: Thanks for coming along today. Clearly we all want Woolworths to help us to be part of the solution, not to be the problem, so I appreciate your honesty here today. We may have already covered this, but I just wanted to home in on moving the time of the opening of a liquor store. Mr Snowdon has probably already asked this, but the statistic I am particularly interested in relates to what happens when you open the store two hours later. We have all seen the scene: the car park adjacent to the liquor store at 12 o'clock will be full—100 or 200 Aboriginal men waiting to get into the store. So, it is the time restriction, not necessarily restrictions on alcohol per se. I am interested in what happens in that case in terms of consumption. Are your sales down? Or is it just the same? I think this is a part of us trying to unpack what the solution is, if just shifting the time by two hours means that people start drinking two hours later but are ultimately still drinking the same quantity.
Mr Thomas : I am not particularly well placed to go through in depth on what you—
Ms PRICE: I know Mr Snowdon has asked for statistics on changing consumer patterns; I am particularly interested in that part.
Mr Thomas : We will see whether we can address that in perhaps more detail. As I have tried to point out in some of the comments I have made, these restrictions on supply will be circumvented to some degree. We all know that prohibition ultimately does not work, so at the very extreme end you do not actually succeed by trying to cut off supply. But there may be things you can do at the margin to help, and we are happy to work with communities on that. Undoubtedly there will be movement around that, and you will find that it does not mean that that period of sales just drops off; there will be some shifting. People may shift to another retailer. But our approach and I think the approach in communities has been pretty good in terms of trying to work with other retailers through the accords to make sure that everyone is responding so that you do not get that sort of game play between retailers. But you will see some shifting in terms of when people buy rather than in terms of how much they buy.
Ms PRICE: My hunch is that it is probably not making that much difference; people are just drinking later in the day.
Mr Thomas : We will see whether we can help the committee on that.
Mr Wilsmore : Just broadly, you are correct in that as you shorten the hours in the day the same amount of alcohol, roughly, is still being purchased, but within a shorter period of time. Equally, with introducing minimum price or getting rid of cuts, you will see some shift out of particular categories into other categories. Overall they may be reducing pure alcohol in that community, but there is still drinking at binge levels—very harmful levels. It is just a different product of choice. What actually does happen in those circumstances is that it does assist in the broader community's response. It helps with police resourcing, health professional resourcing and other activities within that community as it ties into a more management oriented or time oriented ability for that community to respond as necessary. But alcohol abuse is more a symptom of other challenges within those communities than about supply measures to try to solve them.
Mr RAMSEY: I have a couple of questions around operating restrictions. I am very interested in the 70 stores, and you will supply that information to us. Firstly, how do you operate a national chain with specials? And do you exempt certain stores from certain special lines? I came across a situation the other day—and it was not one of your chains, to be fair—where the local community was not that happy that you could buy two bottles of vodka for $13, I think it was, but certainly under $15. They would have liked that special line pulled, but because it is a nationwide advertising program it had to go ahead. How do you deal with that?
Mr Thomas : Some of the restrictions that relate to the 70 stores do go to not doing specials or promotions on certain products. So, we will do that and work with the community and, if there are concerns about particular products and specials around those, we will seek to restrict those. In short, there is scope, and we have done that; we have evidence of having done that in the past.
Mr RAMSEY: Also, in my electorate I have at least some examples of where alcohol has been banned by address. If you come from a certain part of the world, in this particular case the APY lands, you cannot buy alcohol in Coober Pedy—or not packaged. Do you operate anything like that in any of your stores around Australia? Do you actually have any restrictions on buying alcohol that are fixed to the person's address?
Mr Thomas : Just to clarify: if someone were to turn up at our store, we would ask for their address and then say, 'Sorry, you—'
Mr RAMSEY: Yes.
Mr Thomas : Not that I am aware of.
Mr RAMSEY: Well, this is enforced by the liquor licensing commission, and we will go there next year and have a look. It has been a very interesting move by the whole community, because it is restricted access to everyone, in some ways. But it has also seen a dramatic change in behaviour. I was just wondering whether you were operating under anything like that around Australia, but there is nothing that you are aware of.
Mr Thomas : I will come back to you if there is something more we can add in that space.
Mr PERRETT: I have two questions, and they both come from your corporate responsibility report from last year. It is particularly about ready-to-drink sweet things. I am not sure of the technical term; the distillers might be able to tell us.
Mr Thomas : Ready to drink?
Mr PERRETT: Yes, particularly the extra-sweet ones. And under the responsible marketing of alcohol charter that you are a signatory to, principle one is that the product should not have the potential to appeal to minors and the product should not have an appearance that could potentially lead to confusion with confectionary or soft drinks and should not suggest that consumption could lead to sporting success or anything social. I was just wondering whether Woolworths has turned its mind to those particular drinks that seem to be targeted, I would suggest, at younger people—the alcopops.
Mr Thomas : Andrew may be able to go into a little bit more detail on this. I know, for example, that in the ready-to-drink space we will not sell any ready-to-drinks that go over a certain limit—basically two standard drinks. So, we have gone into that space and we have sought to restrict that aspect of them.
Mr PERRETT: Principle 10 of the code.
Mr Thomas : Yes. More generally in terms of the marketing, we would be concerned if these sought to have a specific target at young people, and from our point of view that would breach our code, and we would seek not to stop that. We can come back to you with more.
Mr PERRETT: I am sorry that I missed your introduction, Mr Thomas, so I am not sure whether you have touched on this. In relation to your responsible service of alcohol, you say, 'We continue to participate with police, local councils and community groups in initiatives to advocate responsible drinking.' I was wondering if you had already detailed the examples where you have been proactive with communities so that you have gone out in front rather than responding to concerns, as Rowan and Warren touched on.
Mr Thomas : I have touched on it a bit. I will give you a quick run-through and I can come back with some specifics. I am conscious of the time.
Mr PERRETT: Perhaps, to make it easier, particularly in the urban areas rather than in the bush.
Mr Thomas : As I touched on, in over 70 of our stores we do have restrictions in place and most of those are voluntary restrictions that have been done with the community.
Mr PERRETT: If you could focus on the urban—the majority of Australia.
Mr Thomas : Okay. Some of those stores will be in what we would deem urban areas. More broadly, across our entire network we have a range of things. I outlined in my opening remarks that just last month we introduced a program which we call Our Community Our Commitment, which seeks to highlight and drive home both for our staff and for our customers a number of things where we think we are going a bit above and beyond.
Mr PERRETT: I commend you for the fresh fruit focus. I think that has been successful. It is important in changing lives. I am interested in your shadowing in terms of consumption of alcohol.
Mr Thomas : In terms of things like requiring ID for people who look 25 or younger, in terms of not selling to people—
Mr PERRETT: But this is standard behaviour. I want to know what is above and beyond for Woolworths, which is selling two in five drinks to Australians.
CHAIR: Should we ask them to put that in writing for us?
Mr PERRETT: Yes, that would be better.
CHAIR: That will give you more time to put some queries into your own system and give us more detail.
Mr Thomas : I can give you a couple of quick things.
CHAIR: Why don't you feed those into the secretariat, because we are running over time. You will be given a transcript of what we have just been saying. Please check that for accuracy. We have also talked a lot about other material you are going to give us, including the detail of your 70 stores' restrictions—what are those restrictions, where are those stores and how long have those restrictions been in place? Please also give us any other observations you would like to make about outcomes you might have tested or been aware of, even if it is only anecdotal.
Mr SNOWDON: We also asked for sales data for products sold in those areas and how it may have changed.
CHAIR: Yes. Perhaps the best way to proceed would be for the secretariat to write to you in the next day or so with those questions . After we get the Hansard, we will put them to you. We would very much appreciate your cooperation there. Thank you most sincerely. We very much appreciate your giving us your time today.
Mr Thomas : Thank you very much; we appreciate it.