Most countries tax the domestic consumption of alcoholic beverages, but in all cases the tax rates vary widely between beverages. For example, in Australia commercially produced beer is taxed at eight different rates, brandy is taxed lower than other spirits, and wine is taxed through a separate tax, based on its value rather than its alcohol content.
Both economists and public health representatives have called for alcoholic beverages to be taxed on the basis of alcohol content, thereby eliminating such anomalies. Although these arguments for changes to the taxation of alcoholic beverages are made on economic rationality and evidence-based public health grounds, what is missing from the debate is the influence that historical experience in particular cultures may be playing.
There are numerous studies that relate the history of alcohol in Australia. However what is lacking, is any long-term historical analysis of alcohol excise taxation in Australia, and the role that the historical and cultural context in diverse developed economies (including Australia) plays in the current excise taxation of different alcoholic beverages. This report aims to address these deficiencies to facilitate a more informed debate about future excise taxation on alcoholic beverages.
Dr Elizabeth Manton, Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, La Trobe University.