Queensland Government caves to hotel lobby over four-packs

The Queensland Government has ignored a Parliamentary committee’s ‘middle ground’ recommendation to allow restaurants and cafés to sell four-packs of craft beer with meals in passing its latest Bill Amendment Act.

Despite a clear recommendation by the State Development and Regional Industries Committee that the Bill should allow restaurants and cafés to have the option of selling 1.5 litres of wine, beer, cider or pre-mixed drinks for sale with a takeaway meal, up to 10pm, the Act was passed yesterday limiting takeaways to wine.

The amendment, as part of a the wider Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response—Permanency) Amendment Bill 2021, which was designed to make permanent certain temporary regulatory measures that were introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, would have permitted restaurants and cafés to sell a four-pack of beer to take away with a meal.

The amendment was championed by the Restaurant & Catering Association which submitted that demand for takeaway options during the pandemic had surged to nearly 37 per cent of all orders, with CEO Wes Lambert explaining that takeaway liquor has become an important source of revenue for operators, who have no other sources of income.

In Queensland, in addition to the revenue from poker machine that many hotel operators receive, they can operate up to three detached bottleshops. During COVID many bottleshop operators trumpeted their surging sales at a time when restaurants and cafes were struggling to remain open.

The move to reject the Committee’s recommendation came after heavy lobbying from the Queensland Hotels Association.

Speaking in support of the Bill, Member for Capalaba and former “retail manager in the liquor industry” Don Brown said that despite the committee’s recommendation, the bill had the “balance right in regards to limiting it to wine”.

“We need to ensure that we support those hoteliers and clubs that pay a lot for their licences and that they are protected because they do put a lot of money into those licences. There are also the leases that go with them and the staff which man them, which I was one of.”

In addition to protecting hotels, the Government has also pointed to harm minimisation as a reason to limit the sale of beer.

A spokesperson for the Attorney-General previous advised Brews News when the Bill has introduced the decision was on the basis of some beer’s high alcohol.

“Beer and pre-mixed alcoholic drinks were not included as some of these products can contain a high percentage of alcohol by volume and may lead to the greater potential for alcohol misuse,” the spokesperson advised at the time.

However, industry submissions highlight that the current two bottles of wine allowed under the bill permit the sales of 14 standard drinks, while a four-pack of an average beer contains less than six standard drinks.

Despite multiple requests to Attorney General Shannon Fentiman’s office since September, the Government has not provided any data or anecdotal evidence to suggest the temporary provisions were being abused or contributed to any additional issues.

Brews News has also requested data from the Queensland Government about any inspections or compliance audits undertaken by OLGR in the last 3 years in relation to detached bottleshops and online ordering platforms that would support its concerns regarding harm minimisation. Alcohol sales through these platforms permit unrestricted amounts, without the requirement that they be placed with food.

Update. A spokesperson for the Queensland Attorney General said the Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 has been through the parliamentary process, which included committee hearings and parliamentary debate.

“No-one moved any amendments to the provisions for sale of alcohol as outlined in the Bill,” the spokesperson said.

“The changes the Bill allows for were enthusiastically supported by members. Furthermore, members were supportive of the Attorney-General’s remarks that the government may look into further changes in the future.

“As such Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation (OLGR) are now moving into implementation phase for the new provisions.”

The spokesperson also noted that the Queensland Government “engaged with industry stakeholders prior to introducing the legislation, and has been guided by the best available research about harm minimisation, which can be found in the government’s Tackling Alcohol-Fuelled Violence policy.”

The department did not provide any information about misuse or negative impacts occurring while the temporary provisions were in force and declined to provide information about compliance auditing of bottleshops and online alcohol delivery services to support its concern regarding misuse.

The Independent Brewers Association said it had provided a detailed response to the consultation on the draft Bill as well as speaking to its content and was disappointed at the result.

“Independent brewers in Queensland were grateful for the Bill that was introduced in May 2020, which allowed venues to temporarily sell takeaway liquor regardless of the limitations of their licence or permit,” CEO Kylie Lethbridge told Brews News.

“This provided a much-needed distribution channel during what was a very challenging time for small business in the state.”

“The Bill that would make part of this arrangement permanent was also a welcome relief up until the point we realised our feedback on the draft proposals had been disregarded and the sale of a limited amount of beer under these same arrangements would no longer be possible.

“We are most disappointed in the outcome as the government’s own State Development and Regional Industries Committee recommendation provided for a fair and equitable playing field only to be completely ignored when presented. To limit take-away sales of beer only to bottle shops is a discriminatory decision that favours and protects certain elements of the industry, with no data to justify that decision.

“Not only does this decision contradict the objectives set out in the Queensland Craft Brewing Strategy, which was put in place by the now Treasurer and continued under Minister Butcher, but it levels a giant kick in the face to restauranteurs and small producers such as our members.

“The recommendations ensure that revenue for independent, Australian own breweries is diminished in favour of wine and we are still at a loss as to why this decision has been made when our industry provides employment to 4,413 people and contributed $256m to the State’s economy in 2020,” she said.

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