Victorian liquor regulators sign ABAC agreement

The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation has signed an agreement with ABAC following the banning of Howler Brewing Company’s Choc Milk Stout.

Earlier this week, the VCGLR announced that it had banned the advertising and promotion of Howler’s beer, even though the beer had not been brewed for 12 months.

The beer was originally released in 2019 and the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) received a complaint about its packaging in July 2020, in which it was argued that using the same label layout and colours as a tin of chocolate drink powder Milo could be misleading to children.

Despite some media outlets declaring that a child had actually drunk the beer, the complainant actually said his young, primary-school-aged children had thought it was a drink of Milo in the fridge.

Howler fought the decision of the ABAC adjudication panel which found it in breach of the code, however as the brewery was not an ABAC member, ABAC referred the matter to the VCGLR.

The commission issued a banning notice to Howler in June 2021 directing it to withdraw the use of the packaging by 10th July 2021, which could attract a $20,000 fine, although Howler had already removed the product from the market by this point.

Despite the long lead time between the complaint and the ban, VCGLR chair Ross Kennedy said the commission “will not hesitate” to issue a banning notice if the promotion or advertising of liquor does not fall within the law.

“The way liquor is promoted or advertised can encourage irresponsible consumption which in turn can contribute to anti-social behavior and alcohol related violence and disorder,” he said.

“Those under 18 are at the highest risk in relation to alcohol-related injuries including road trauma and violence. We will do all we can in our power to ensure alcoholic products that are for sale, are advertised or promoted within the law and do not encourage interest by minors.”

“ABAC welcomes the actions of the Victorian Authority in concluding this case,” said Harry Jenkins AO, chair of the ABAC Management Committee.

Following this collaboration, the Victorian Commission entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with ABAC “to ensure greater collaboration between both organisations with a focus on alcohol advertising best practice”, a welcome move for ABAC which has faced criticism in the past for lacking effective countermeasures.

Under the MoU, the two organisations will refer matters between them regarding potentially non-compliant advertising and promotions, and meet regularly to discuss issues and challenges in the alcohol marketing regulatory scheme.

Jenkins said that the MoU formalises the co-operative relationship that has developed between the organisations over time.

“State Liquor licensing authorities have a regulatory role in alcohol marketing – as does ABAC – and therefore a collaborative relationship assists in the promotion and encouragement of responsibility in alcohol marketing within Australia.”

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