Bali considers controversial booze ban with jail terms for consumers

Bali's hoteliers are warning a proposed Indonesia-wide booze ban would scare off Aussie tourists and stop a post-coronavirus economic recovery dead in its tracks.

The prohibition push has been revived by two Islamist political parties – the United Development Party and the Prosperous Justice Party – and nationalist party Gerindra via a bill that has lain dormant since 2016.

The law would ban alcoholic beverages ranging in strength from 1 per cent to 55 per cent. It would be an offence to produce, store, sell or consume alcoholic drinks.

Draconian penalties ranging from two to 10 years' jail and fines of up to $100,000 could apply for the production, storing, importation and sale of alcohol, while anyone consuming alcohol could be jailed up to two years or fined up to $5000.

And while certain exceptions are being considered, including for religious ceremonies, pharmaceutical uses, for tourists and for people or venues with special permits, how these permits would work and who would qualify has not been decided.

It is unclear, for example, if small shops known as warungs would be able to continue to sell alcohol, whether foreigners who are residents in Indonesia would be exempt from the ban and what would happen to local wineries or other drinks such as locally manufactured Bintang beer – a favourite among Australian tourists – would have to shut up shop.

Ricky Putra, the chairman of the Bali Hotel Association, said the current laws regulating alcohol in Indonesia were sufficient and that in majority-Hindu Bali – where alcohol is more widely consumed than in most other parts of the majority-Muslim part of the country – the results could have a big impact on tourism.

"We are currently already struggling with the pandemic. How will we get people to come when our border reopens? How are we supposed to revive tourism in Bali, or in Indonesia? Not only international tourists but also domestic tourists will think why should they go to Bali for a holiday when they can't even enjoy a bottle of beer?" he said.

"Establishments like hotels would not be allowed to sell alcohol without a permit, to begin with. What needs to be done is to ensure the current laws on alcohol beverages are implemented properly. We already have limitations for example on where and who can sell alcohol ... the proposed law is not needed."

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Bali's economy has already been smashed by a 95 per cent drop in tourism because of international border closures, which has cost the economy billions of dollars.

In a statement, Indonesia's Institute for Criminal Justice Reform said the government should first undertake in-depth research on the costs and benefits of criminalising the production, distribution, ownership and consumption of alcohol.

Indonesian MP Illiza Sa'aduddin Djamal said further discussion of the details of the proposed law were needed and that "it is currently just a proposal, there will be harmonisation, discussions, [to talk about] what can be agreed upon".

She said that exceptions could be made to allow Bintang to export its products, for example, and that the "proposed law is not blindly banning alcohol. We are aware Indonesia is not an Islamic country [in which the religion] governs everything".

In 2019, Indonesia considered new laws banning sex outside marriage but the plan was dropped because of the damage to Bali tourism, which as a tourism drawcard makes a significant contribution to the Indonesian economy.

The three parties pushing the law control 147 of 575 seats in the parliament but their political influence is greater than the number of seats they hold.

About 1.3 million Australians visited Bali in 2020, more than any other nation, before the pandemic closed international borders around the world.

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