Queensland takeaway reforms sideline beer

The Queensland Government has extended the sale of takeaway wine through cafes and restaurants, but declined to allow for the sale of beer, saying the “high percentage of alcohol by volume” in some beers “may lead to the greater potential for alcohol misuse”.

The Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response—Permanency) Amendment Bill 2021 seeks to make permanent the permissions to sell takeaway wine which were granted to some venues during COVID, but has removed the similar permission regarding beer.

Explanatory notes accompanying the Bill noted that the Queensland Hotels Association and the Queensland Coalition for Action on Alcohol and the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education to lobby against continuing the takeaway sale of beer with food takeaway beer sales will not be allowed.

“Given some beer and pre-mixed alcoholic drinks with spirits have a very high percentage of alcohol by volume, therefore posing a greater risk of adverse intoxication, these types of liquor will not be able to be sold for takeaway,” it was stated in the notes.

Update: Retail Drinks Australia was included in the stakeholders identified in the explanatory notes as requiring amendments to the takeaway rules. The organisation has since clarified that while it was grouped with those stakeholders, it did not oppose the inclusion of beer in the takeaway rules.

During the pandemic, licensed venues in Queensland, as in many other states, were able to sell takeaway alcohol with food to support the businesses forced to close due to ongoing snap lockdowns. This was extended again in January 2021.

The latest amendment bill, which is concerned with legislative COVID-19 emergency responses and whether to make them permanent, highlights the ongoing regulatory disparity between the treatment of wine in comparison with beer.

Proposed takeaway amendments

The proposed amendments were released after consultation with 12 stakeholders earlier this year including the Independent Brewers Association, the Restaurant and Caterers Association and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland, all of whom were in favour of extending existing takeaway rules which included beer.

Following complaints from stakeholders including the Queensland Hotels Association, Retail Drinks Australia and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) a number of changes were included.

The unlikely allies made arguments highlighting the possible risk of alcohol-related harm and the potential for irresponsible supply of alcohol by allowing takeaway liquor to be sold with nominal amounts of prepared food, and that there would be adverse impacts for commercial hotels and bottleshops, including the loss of business to restaurants and cafes operating as ‘de facto’ bottleshops.

As a result, limitations including preventing “some” beer and pre-mixed alcoholic drinks with spirits being sold as takeaway and also limiting the maximum volume of wine able to be sold to 1.5 litres, were introduced.

The Queensland Craft Beer Strategy initially intended to help counterbalance these disparities, which resulted in a Queensland Artisan Licence for small alcohol producers which allowed them to sell the products of other Queensland artisan producers.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Attorney-General sent a statement through which said that the Queensland Government “moved swiftly” to introduce temporary measures during lockdown.

“We are committed to supporting the craft beer industry to grow through our Buy Queensland policy as well as the new Artisan Producer Liquor Licence which enables licensees to sell their products in more places, including at promotional events, markets and on-premises at other artisan producers’ licensed premises,” they said.

The Attorney General’s office did not address criticism of the bill and did not provide any further evidence supporting the claims regarding the high abv of beer.

“The new Bill allows licenced restaurant owners to apply for a licence condition to sell takeaway wine with a meal – this is in addition to any authority a restaurant has to sell alcohol, including beer, on premise under their current licence,” the spokesperson said.

Glenn Butcher, Queensland Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing and Minister for Water, has been approached for comment.

Update: The Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing Glenn Butcher said in a response to Brews News following the publication of this article that the Craft Beer Strategy “continues to deliver for the growing number of craft brewers around Queensland”, highlighting the artisan liquor legislation.

“The proposed bill has been referred to the committee and the public submission process will open soon. I encourage all parties with an interest in the bill to make a submission,” he said.

Higher abv beer

The claims about beer posing a “greater risk of adverse intoxication” have been met with incredulity by some in the industry, as most beer on average has much lower alcohol by volume (abv) than wine.

The higher price points and smaller can sizes of many higher abv beers also mean that their popularity tends to be limited to fans of craft beer rather than a general restaurant or café customer base.

At one South East Queensland bottleshop surveyed by Brews News, while there were beers of 13% abv being sold, this was at a price range of between $15 and $30 per can, which were either smaller 330ml cans or 500ml cans, compared to a 750ml standard bottle of wine.

In relation to buying higher abv beers in bulk, the retailers said that it was “not commonly done”.

The issue puts into focus the legislative inequality between the treatment of beer and other alcoholic beverages following on the heels of the announcement that Australian Tax Office rule changes meant that takeaway cocktails would not require venues to have a manufacturer’s licence as was the case before COVID-19, but beer would.

Queensland industry experts including Russell Steele from RSA Pro said that the measures failed to achieve the objectives of the bill, which was to make permanent measures that helped small businesses stay afloat at the peak of the pandemic.

“Small amounts of takeaway liquor sales helped make the sale of food and liquor packages viable for these small businesses that had been restricted from such sales historically due primarily to market protection based sections of the Liquor Act that favour hotels,” he said.

“What we know is these sales happen anyway. We stop for a takeaway meal at our favourite restaurant on the way home after a long day. We order our meal and while we wait we pop into the BWS, Liquorland or Big Box store and buy a six pack or a bottle of wine.

“The money flows to those big chain duopoly businesses and not to the small business restaurateur the community actually wants to support.”

With major retailers including Coles Liquor and BWS and Dan Murphy’s owner Endeavour Group making record profits during the COVID period off the back of support for local producers, Steele explained that the move to local should benefit small and local businesses at all levels.

“Small businesses want to support other small businesses and restaurants frequently stock boutique craft beer and artisan distilled spirits for dine in customers,” he said.

“Snap lock downs have meant consumer trends have shifted and they support these small businesses by buying a six pack of craft beer and a meal as a takeaway or delivery package to support their favourite local restaurant. This is genuine community demand and there is no evidence there has been any associated risks that have been linked to this 18 month “trial”.

“These measures are working to that intent and changing them to deny consumers the right to buy these products from their preferred local restaurant does nothing but perpetuate market dominance and is contrary to the objects of the Liquor Act.

“These changes are a backwards step at a time the market needs forward leaps. The current provisions that allow a six pack and nothing more do not justify being changed.”

Additional reporting by Harrison Walker

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