Long-awaited Qld 'artisan licence' Bill introduced

In it’s last sitting week before the October state election, the Queensland Government today introduced long-awaited legislation to parliament to create a new artisan liquor licence.

Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing Glenn Butcher today introduced the Liquor (Artisan Liquor) Amendment Bill 2020 saying it “delivers on our government’s commitment under the Queensland Craft Brewing Strategy to establish a new licence that better suits industry and reduces regulatory burden”.

“The new licence is an important step in further developing the craft brewing and artisan distilling industries in Queensland, while ensuring compliance with harm minimisation measures and responsible service of alcohol,” Minister Butcher said in his First Reading speech to parliament.

“The licence will provide opportunities for increasing market access, industry growth and the potential to generate new jobs.

“Queensland is proudly home to approximately 90 independent craft breweries with the sector employing more than 1,700 people and contributing an estimated $62 million annually to the Queensland economy.

“By 2024, it is anticipated that the industry’s contribution to the State’s economy will be well over $100 million.

“Importantly, almost 25 per cent of Queensland’s craft breweries are established in regional towns.

“Passage of the Bill will ensure this regionally diverse industry continues to grow, innovate and contribute to the State’s economy,” the Minister told Parliament.

However, the Bill has been criticised by the small brewing industry as being “too little, too late”.

The timing of the introduction has also been described as ‘cynical’, with the Bill not set to be passed before the October election leaving its implementation contingent on the Palaszczuk Government winning the upcoming election and reintroducing the Bill.

The legislative proposals

Under current legislation, independent brewers and distillers in Queensland operate under a producer/wholesaler licence and must seek a second liquor licence such as a restaurant or hotel licence in order to pour other small brewers beers at their venues. These licences significantly add to the costs and also lead to increased costs such as higher categorisation under the State’s fire levy.

Under the new licence, brewers will be allowed to sell other Queensland ‘artisan’ liquor for on-premises consumption, provided those sales do not exceed 30 per cent of their sales annually.

“This will allow licensees to operate taprooms and tasting rooms without a second licence, broaden the appeal of their venues to more patrons and introduce the ability to promote each other’s products on-site,” the Minister said.

The provisions allow the use of ‘guest taps’ in venues, subject to the sale limits, but not takeaway sales of the same products or growlers.

The MInister noted in his speech that limits will keep “focus on small batch liquor production and prevents boutique liquor venues from operating as hotels and nightclubs.”

The Bill also proposes licensees will be able to sell takeaways of their own product and take orders for their own prodcuts online. This will see a continuation to temporary permissions granted by the Queensland Government under its COVID-19 response, applauded by many brewers grappling with the COVID closures.

The Bill also makes slight changes to how brewers can participate in promotional events such as markets and food and wine shows.

“As a result of consultation with the industry, sample sizes of 150mls of craft beer and 15mls of artisan spirts are proposed through separate regulation,” the Minister said.

“Takeaways will be limited to a carton of beer or two bottles of spirits.

“Licensees may also apply for a permit to sell their liquor at commercial public events, such as music festivals and sporting events, creating greater opportunities for market access for these small businesses.”

The changes will see a continuation of the very different treatment of Queensland brewers and wine makers, with wine makers not required to seek permission under the equivalent licence granted under the Wine Industry Act 1994. Wine makers are similarly not limited to sample sizes of volumes sold, and regularly sell standard serving sizes as samples.

The disparities will continue to see wine makers and brewers attend the same events under differing licencing conditions, even when a winery produces beer.

Industry reaction

Independent Brewers Association Queens;and spokesperson, David Kitchen, described the proposals as “too little, too late”.

“If these proposals had been implemented a year ago, brewers would be in a much better position to withstand the challenges of COVID,” he told Brews News.

“While we are pleased the legislation has finally made its way into Parliament, the legislation is a less-than-adequate answer to the challenges the Minister has acknowedged we face in getting access to market.

“After long discussions with the Department of State Development, the industry was satisfied with the original proposals that had been drafted, however those were subsequently amended after consultation with other interests.”

Brews News understands that the industry proposed a 50 per cent sales mix on par with the equivalent provision for wineries, before pressure from the Queensland Hotels Association saw the limit reduced. The QHA has previously opposed proposals aimed at giving craft brewers easier access to markets.

Liquor licencing expert Russell Steele from RSA Liquor Professionals, who works with breweries dealing with the complexities of the current legislation, described the changes as “small wins wrapped in added red tape”.

“There are some wins, on that basis alone I support the urgent passage of the Bill,” he said.

“The small wins in this Bill outweigh the numerous failures. ”

“Since 2011 the craft brewing industry has been working for parity with the Queensland Government’s successful wine legislation,” he said.

“This is the fourth or fifth attempt at legislation and we finally have a specific, for-purpose Bill and it is still scrambled eggs.

“There are some small wins but brewers are still so far from parity with the local wine industry it’s inexplicable.”

Steele also described the move introduce the Bill in the last sitting before the election, with no prospect of it being enacted, as “cynical”.

The Bill was introduced in the last sitting week of the state parliament before the October election and will lapse. Brews News understands that, if elected, the Palaszczuk Government will reintroduce the Bill after the election.

To be eligible for the artisan licence a craft brewer must produce between 2,500 litres and 5 million litres of each year and meet in IBA definition of independence.

The Bill was introduced almost two years after the Queensland Government released its Craft Beer Strategy. Other promised initiatives, including TAFE training and BrewLab were launched earlier this year.

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