04/05/2004 - 22:00

Horgan fights to get WET

04/05/2004 - 22:00


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IN the political world it’s called being ‘on message’, and few people have managed to be as singularly focused on such an objective as Denis Horgan, arguably WA’s leading wine entrepreneur, who has unfailingly hammered

Horgan fights to get WET

IN the political world it’s called being ‘on message’, and few people have managed to be as singularly focused on such an objective as Denis Horgan, arguably WA’s leading wine entrepreneur, who has unfailingly hammered the taxation on wine since the advent of the GST.

Mr Horgan, who was president of the WA Wine Industry Association at the time of the GST’s introduction, has never let go of the issue, claiming the Wine Equalisation Tax designed to replace sales tax on the beverage simply penalises good producers, the ones who will make the export grade.

This week he’s been raising the issue at an international wine conference in Margaret River, stealing the limelight from Federal Trade Minister Mark Vaile and forcing the cabinet minister to respond to questions on this subject.

That’s just what the pollies hate when they’ve travelled down south to capture a bit of feel-good vision promoting regional Australia doing well.

Some think the Leeuwin Estate chieftain’s crusade is an obsession, one that has got in the way of his ability to lead the industry and burned out an executive officer or two at the association along the way.

Obsession it may be, but it’s not a self-obsession. Leeuwin might do well in Australia, but it could probably sell what it produces offshore and avoid the WET if it wanted.

I have to say – and I’ve had more than a few discussions on this topic with Mr Horgan in the past – that it seems there is a just principle at stake here and he won’t be defeated.

In the past it could be argued that it was the big wineries versus the minors on this matter, but even there, things have changed.

These days Mr Horgan says the national body now supports him.

And why shouldn’t it.

The future of Australian wine is not in a cask – even though Margaret River is now producing one.

Why should two litres of cheap plonk have a fraction of the duty charged on it that 750ml of decent product attracts? We all know that the WET superseded sales tax, which was designed to reduce excessive consumption – how that works by jacking up taxes in relation to prices rather than the volume of alcohol beats me.

The fact is we have a cost-based tax that is a charge on those that make wine well – so it’s really a luxury tax on people who buy good wine.

That’s an odd thing for a Liberal Government to have, especially when it’s this group of wine makers who might actually export their goods, as opposed to cask wine makers who are simply providing the cheap liquor to parts of our society intent on destroying themselves.


ABA toothless in talk radio

THE cash-for-comments debacle is something that I don’t recall ever having written a word about.

Perhaps it’s just a long way away and, even with some WA involvement in its earliest days, seemed irrelevant.

Quiet on the subject I may have been, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t hold an opinion – a strong one at that.

I have always thought it was appalling that radio announcers were paid to spruik corporate messages (there’s that PR thing again) during what was ostensibly non-advertising broadcasting.

But to my mind, the problem lay not so much with the broadcasters but the broadcasting regulator, the ABA, which seems uncaring about this practice. It does not just exist in radio; television is full of product endorsements masquerading as prime time television.

It’s not that I am a stickler for the rules, just that these broadcasters are licensed to operate. Among other things, that licence demands certain limitations on the volume (or time content) of advertising.

Those conditions are part of the rules that stop competition from entering this business – in other words, broadcasters have a licence to print money, that’s why they spend millions of dollars fighting each other for the next bit of spectrum auctioned by the government.

It’s time they were held to the conditions of these rules. Alternatively (and preferably), drop these clearly unenforceable controls and allow free-for-all broadcasting that cable and the Internet provides.

The newspaper and publishing world operates without these constraints. The public has learned from experience which mastheads to trust without any laws governing sponsorship or disclaimers beyond trade practices type issues.

So let’s drop the rules and remove the non-spectrum barriers to entry.  At least we might stop pretending that regulations protect anyone but the broadcast owners. From competition, that is.


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