Council backs regional brewer Monkey Pig against fire levy

A Queensland council has backed their local brewery, Monkey Pig Brewing, as the struggle continues over the state government’s surprise fire levy hike.

Livingstone Shire Council has thrown its weight behind Monkey Pig, the only brewer in its jurisdiction, after the 900 per cent emergency management levy increase was introduced without consultation with industry or all relevant departments, or an official announcement last month.

The fire levy was hiked from $527.80 to $5,224.20. The Queensland Fire and Emergency Service (QFES) actually said this was “saving” brewers $84,000 as they had not been put in a higher levy class.

QFES later admitted to Brews News that they had not undertaken an industry consultation, explaining that it was not common practice when changing regulations.

However they had also not discussed the changes with the ‘Minister for Beer’ Cameron Dick’s department, which was supposed to be spearheading the Craft Beer Strategy across Queensland state government.

Kat and Reg Taylor of Monkey Pig told Brews News that if they were forced to pay the levy, then the brewery would have to shut down.

“We only heard about it because David [Kitchen of the IBA] sent the email out describing what some of the breweries in South East Queensland and Brisbane had experienced with the rate notice increase.

“We wanted to get ahead of it,” they said.

Reg said that the consequences of increasing the levy were not thought through, particularly when it came to the struggles of brewers in more regional areas.

“The government is grabbing for money. In regional areas we’re hard pressed to make much money at all. We don’t have the size of market that other brewers do in the South East corner. Markets are smaller, margins are smaller and costs are higher,” he explained.

“Infrastructure is expensive, it adds 20-30 per cent to the costs of our business, which metro areas might not see. It’s another tax, which doesn’t help us when there’s not much money left anyway.

“It would shut us down if we had to pay that, there’s no way the businesses can afford this.”

Monkey Pig is a 600-litre brewery, and comes in at 288 square metres, of which only half is used to produce beer. The remainder of the site used as an office, taproom and small shop for locally-made food and produce.

This puts it well under the 15,000 square metre limit for a ‘small brewery’ as dictated by QFES in their new levy class, as most craft brewers are.

Kat explained that part of the problem is down to state government attempts to squeeze money out of a growing industry, without truly understanding it.

“They’re trying to impose this levy because they’ve identified that we’re a growing industry and they think they can make more money from us.

“They’re doing it by stealth. [As a result] we’re facing nearly a 1000 per cent increase in our levies and they can only do that because there’s nothing in planning scheme that caters for craft brewers.”

The Local Government Association Queensland said that while it had not been informed yet of Livingstone Shire Council’s workaround or plans to potentially reclassify the brewery in a less expensive levy class, the issue is on its radar.

“Councils collect the levy on behalf of the State Government. Our members do not like this because it results in some councils copping the blame for collecting what is in fact a state levy,” said an LGAQ spokesperson.

“The other issue is categorisation. The schedule the State uses is outdated but we have not been successful in convincing the government to revisit it. Councils have to follow that schedule as it’s outlined in the Fire and Emergency Services Act.

“The issue is on the LGAQ’s radar but we have so far been unsuccessful in convincing the State Government to review the way it imposes the levy.”

Taking action

The Taylors said that they have received help from the IBA and the local press as well as their council to get the state government to sit up and take notice.

“We basically emailed all our councillors including our state political representative.

“Nearly all of our councillors responded within a day or so and we also contacted our local newspaper and they ran a story on it as well to help inform all the readers of exactly what the state government.”

The Livingstone Shire Government were contacted for comment and to confirm their actions but did not manage to respond before the publication of this article, but the Taylors said there was movement in the works to include Monkey Pig in a different levy category therefore making them exempt from the increase.

“What they’re going to do is use what they’ve done with us as a case study and be proactive to shift breweries out of this category,” Kat said.

“What we’re also asking the council to do is to take down to that meeting the idea that they need to create a category for craft breweries in the state planning scheme.

“Beer is non-flammable and they say we don’t even fit into the same category as a winery or anything.

“[Breweries] get shoved into light industrial zone planning, even though we should be able to go on acreage like a winemaker,” she said.

The Taylors said it came down to lack of understanding about the nature and business practices of breweries on a fundamental level from the state government.

“Part of this is that state government doesn’t understand microbreweries or regional areas – there’s no provision in the planning scheme for a microbrewery.

“The planning scheme is located in a light industrial area, we’re right next door to cement batching plants, we’ve got a fibreglass boat builder and a spray painter in same complex.

“Because of state planning that’s where we’ve been put, but all our customers ask why we’re here.”

In New South Wales, a microbrewery licence trial is being extended to attempt to address similar issues, however it has faced hurdles. Brewers opted to work with councils and use existing drinks-on-premises licences and planning categories to enable them to operate both a production and retail element on site.

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