NT regulator slammed over household item backflip

Buyer with the soy sauce in a store

Retail Drinks Australia has described as “farcical” the decision by the Northern Territory’s liquor regulator to crackdown on everyday household cooking and beauty items which contain small amounts of alcohol.

The regulator has said that items which contain more than 1.15 per cent ethyl alcohol ABV and come in containers exceeding 50ml are now classed as “liquor” and can only be bought from licensed premises, and are subject to the Territory’s minimum unit pricing laws.

These include everyday items such as soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and marinades, cough syrup, mouthwash, nail polish remover and vanilla essence.

Affected retailers, including grocery stores, petrol stations and pharmacy’s, all of which have sold these products for more than 40 years, have been thrown into chaos with licensing inspectors insisting products be pulled from shelves.

Julie Ryan, the CEO of Retail Drinks, says that the chaos could have been avoided.

“This issue first came to light when the Acting Director-General sent correspondence to all licensees on 5 July asserting this new interpretation of the Liquor Act 1978.

“The same correspondence suggested that in 2011 the then Northern Territory Commission determined that these products could only be sold with a liquor licence, but the reality is that neither then, nor since the start of the Act over 40 years ago, has this ever been enforced.

“We contacted Ms [Sally] Ozolins’ office and sought an urgent meeting to discuss this issue, and this interpretation which is seemingly at odds with the Chief Minister and Attorney General’s own interpretation as set out in the draft new Liquor Act currently before parliament.”

Under the Liquor Act 1978, Liquor is defined as “a beverage that contains more than 1.15 per cent by volume of ethyl alcohol”. This means that the Acting Director-General considers these products “beverages”. This is in stark contrast to the draft exposure bill for the new Liquor Act, in which these products are defined as “inedible alcohol”.

Ryan says this is the regulator going too far and without considering any of the unintended consequences.

“The correspondence from the NT Licensing alleges that a liquor licence is required to sell everyday items like cough syrup, mouthwash, soy sauce and vanilla essence, just to name a few.

“Taking this logically, she is essentially asserting that every pharmacy, petrol station and supermarket in NT is in breach of the Liquor Act.

“It also means that no one may buy these products, or be supplied them, unless they are over 18 and scanned into the Banned Drinkers Register.

“We call on the regulator to furnish the legal advice that supports this interpretation, otherwise this is a very misleading communication to have been distributed.”

Retail Drinks had been working with the Alcohol Review Implementation Team of the Chief Minister’s office to inform the development of the regulations on inedible alcohol, when the new Liquor Act came into effect in a few months’ time.

Their hope is that NT Licensing will cease their activities and alleged new interpretation, in favour of working collaboratively towards the new regulations to govern these substances.

Retail Drinks confirms will meet with the Acting Director-General of Licensing on Thursday, and that Retail Drinks’ request that all compliance activities be ceased in the interim has been granted by Licensing NT.

If the new restrictions are brought into place, this will then bring into question for retail staff in P&C who are under the age 0f 18.

It will mean that people under the age of 18 will not be able to sell things like nail polish remover and soy sauce due to the traces of alcohol.

There is also the question of what will happen to beverages such as kombucha, that have a very low percentage of alcohol but are still able to be sold in P&C currently.

Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) CEO Jeff Rogut said: “While these items are not huge sellers in many convenience stores it shows another example of regulators acting without consideration of all of the consequences, and does not tackle the hard social issues. Retailers are once again sift targets and it is both regrettable and farcical”.


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