Andrew Wilsmore Alcohol Beverages Australia

New ABA CEO pledges to fight nanny state alcohol laws

October 21, 2019
By Melissa Parker

Andrew Wilsmore, the recently appointed CEO of Alcohol Beverages Australia, shares his view on the challenges the Australian drinks industry is facing with the latest issue of Drinks Trade magazine.

What is the first focus in your new role with Alcohol Beverages Australia?

I’m pretty fortunate. I have walked into a fantastically run association with members who are committed to the purpose of the organisation. They are fully invested in making my role and the role of the organisation successful on behalf of the whole industry.

First up, I am concentrating on meeting the members and understanding all their viewpoints. I will look at developing an appropriate strategy with the team that will see us focus on the key issues and the challenges ahead, while also mapping out a progressive and positive outlook in the way we are seen and viewed by, not only the public, but politicians as well.

Recently we have been hit with a great amount of sensationalist press on the adverse effects of alcohol consumption, but there also exists evidence to suggest moderate alcohol consumption has health benefits.

How important is education in sending the message to the public about safe, measurable and beneficial drinking levels?

It does feel as though the tide is currently against us when you consume any media these days; that is the way of many media organisations where the focus on a negative news story is always going to be of interest and selling a positive story is a challenge.

We are clear there is plenty of research happening around the world that paints a positive picture. One of our roles is to make sure there is a balance in both the public and political discussions about the responsible use of alcohol and its effect on health. We are seeing that with the review of the Drinking Guidelines (The Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol) coming up. There is much evidence that should be considered as part of that process and our role is to make sure there is a positive relationship around moderate alcohol consumption and this evidence makes its way to the expert committee putting together the new drinking guidelines.

To what level does the alcohol industry contribute to the Australian economy, and what are the positive benefits it brings to society?

I think the great thing about this industry is it is forward-facing, and future-focused. It is very much a part of the service industry, so it’s got a very strong service employment relationship with all of our people in the tourism, hospitality and retail sectors; but it is more than that, we also have our logistics and supply chain.

We make up a good part of the blue-collar workforce with our wine, grain and grape. It’s very much a part of primary production as well, so we have this wonderful story of an industry that touches all sectors of the economy. We have a lot of beautiful products. We have a lot to be proud of, and we are very fortunate that Australians are choosing to explore a lot more.

There is a great deal of diversity across our products, so we are responding to what the customer is looking for as well. We are talking huge numbers; $160 billion is our contributed industry output each year, so that is a substantial contribution to the overall economy. We have half a million jobs created; big numbers in tax to the government every year. It’s a massive contributor, not just to the economy, but to the function of government and again, it’s a fantastic industry to be involved in.

In terms of the tourism economy, it’s not just in-bound tourism, there would rarely be a chartered group that wouldn’t visit one of our wine regions these days, but also every bottle of wine, beer or spirit that we send overseas for export is selling Australia to the world. We are selling the fantastic produce that we make and the resources that contribute to those wonderful products, and it’s a real message of selling Australia every time one our products leaves our shore.

What are your thoughts on the latest debate around ending the lockout laws in Sydney? Does Alcohol Beverages Australia believe these should be revised?

If the Government of NSW had the benefit of hindsight they probably would have made a different decision about imposing the lockout laws and the devastating impact it has had on the nighttime economy and Sydney’s reputation to the world.

One of the challenges we have as an association to the industry is some decisions get made with a very narrow viewpoint. What often gets forgotten in those circumstances is the wider ramifications. It has an impact on tourism, hospitality and employment. Those things need to be part of a balanced decision-making process, and that will be a role for Alcohol Beverages Australia in the future, to make sure that all policies to be considered in this space have that considered approach.

Talk to us about why it is important the industry has a say in the revised National Alcohol Strategy.

It was an open consultation process, and we had a role to play not just in the interest of our producers and retailers but also the interest of our consumers. We are the only ones out of all of the submissions that are taking the viewpoint of what it means for the everyday Australian. For us, that means making sure the focus for the National Alcohol Strategy is on targeted harm reduction; finding those at-risk groups and showing there is appropriate help, support and policies to really target those groups.

The last thing we want is for the responsible consumer to be penalised. When we are looking to make policy we don’t want to place any unnecessary burdens on moderate drinkers who are the majority of the
population.

To paraphrase the late Doris Goddard- Bishop are the Wowsers winnin’? Are we turning into a nanny state, dictated to by the authorities on how we should live our lives?

I certainly appreciate that for Australians it feels like there has been a pendulum swing that way; a belief that all alcohol is harmful in some way. The evidence is clear, Australians’ relationship with alcohol has dramatically improved over the last couple of decades that would suggest the policies are working and they are right. It would also suggest we can be trusted to take a bit more personal responsibility. You would think the government’s political outlook would be around looking at some of the regulations we have got and seeing whether they are appropriate compared to other countries.

Australia does have some of the strictest regulations around alcohol in the world. I think the population has demonstrated we can be trusted and the movement is probably toward getting that pendulum back to give Australians more freedom.

Finally, taking a long-term view, what do you hope to achieve during your tenure at Alcohol Beverages Australia?

I’m very fortunate that the industry has looked after me for most of my life. I know all of the people involved are relying on Alcohol Beverages Australia, and all of our members and collective interest, to get this right. It’s about our future and it’s about our social licence and making sure we have a sustainable future. If I can leave this industry in the good shape I find it today then that is my hope. I am very excited about the opportunity ahead of us and getting started.

Alcohol Beverages Australia

Click here to see the digital version of the new-look Drinks Trade magazine.

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