Festival boss blames alcohol tax for drug overdoses

April 25, 2019
By Alana House

The founder of a popular music festival says the rising cost of drinks, driven by alcohol taxes, may have contributed to the recent spike in drug overdoses.

Woodford Folk Festival’s Bill Hauritz told the Sunshine Coast Daily: “It used to be that young people aspired to drink lots of grog, now they can’t afford it. Alcohol is taxed like the prohibition.

“What you can buy for $50 of alcohol compared to drugs is vastly different. Cheap, illegal, dangerous drugs are so easily available. It’s scary.”

Woodford Folk Festival attracts 10,000 visitors annually and hasn’t had a major drug incident, but Hauritz says he still supports pill testing.

“If it saves one life, then of course it’s worthwhile,” he said.

Hauritz’s comments follow the bodies of a 24-year-old man and a 22-year-old woman being found inside a tent at the Rabbit Eats Lettuce music festival at Elbow Valley in Queensland on Monday.

More than 80 drug-related charges were laid at the festival,  which was moved to Queensland this year after NSW police raised safety concerns.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has subsequently given the go-ahead for a government inquiry into illicit amphetamine use, which begins next month, to examine the merits of pill testing.

The move was welcomed by the Australian Medical Association. AMA NSW president Kean-Seng Lim said evidence from other countries showed there was “good reason to support a trial of pill testing with appropriate evaluation”.

“Pill testing is not a question of just telling someone a pill is safe or not safe, but using it as an engagement opportunity to provide further advice, education and support,” Dr Lim told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Last year, young Australians admitted to News Corp that they would rather spend $30 on a pill than pay for the rising costs of alcohol when going out.

“When you’re paying $25 or $30 for a cap, I mean it’s so much cheaper than spending say $40 on pre-drinks then however much when you actually go to the club,” one said. “And it lasts longer than alcohol.”

Another agreed that when it comes to music festivals taking a pill saves him hundreds of dollars.

“I think price is definitely a motivating factor,” he said. “When you consider that drinks are so expensive at a festival and you might end up buying say 10 drinks that’s at least $100.

Australia’s alcohol taxes on beer, for example, are among the highest in the world.

An average 24-carton of full-strength beer at 4.9% alcohol will set you back $47.99. Of that, $16.49 is excise, with an additional $4.36 in GST, meaning almost half of the retail price the most expensive ingredient in beer is tax.

Alcohol taxes rise twice a year in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), generally in February and August each year.

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