Mar 20, 2017

Why Anthony Albanese wants politicians to take craft beer seriously

Poet Henry Lawson once wrote: “Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer”.

Many Australians would agree, particularly at the end of a hot summer’s day.

But in 2017 there’s a serious economic side to beer that needs genuine attention from Australian governments – the significant potential for jobs growth in the craft beer industry.

Australia’s annual consumption of beer has been declining in recent years.

But despite this, craft brewing is growing strongly and has taken nearly 10 per cent of the national market.

The industry is worth about $400 million a year and, according to Austrade, there are about 200 small breweries around the nation.

The research shows that drinkers in their 20s and 30s in particular are attracted to boutique brews for their variety in taste as well as the fact that they are produced locally, in their own communities.

Craft beer looms as an economic opportunity that we cannot afford to ignore.

If we get the policy settings right, this industry could deliver thousands of new jobs. And like many other small businesses, they tend to employ locals.

However, based on the feedback I received from brewers in Sydney’s inner west, current policy settings need some work.

They were created at a time when big international brewers dominated the industry and they work against the expansion of craft brewing.

For example, the rate of federal excise charged for a keg containing 50 litres of beer is less than the rate charged for smaller kegs.

This works in favour of big brewers and against small brewers.

Excise accounts for about 46 per cent of a small brewer’s costs – almost half of the costs to actually produce the beer.

This makes no sense. It must be reviewed.

Craft brewers also warn they are being strangled by paperwork that consumes about a day out of each week – time they could better spend on marketing and product development.

Their third problem is the difficulty they face obtaining town planning approvals to establish small bars on site at their breweries, in the same way that many wineries offer wine-tasting facilities on site.

While such applications need to be balanced against the rights of nearby residents, the industry points out that, just like wine-tasting, beer-tasting has no heritage of promoting anti-social behaviour.

Beer enthusiasts are in it for the taste, not the volume.

Local government regulation in this area is somewhat inflexible. It needs to be updated to facilitate economic development in communities that are crying out for job creation.

There is also huge potential in craft beer tourism – whereby operators set up walking tours where enthusiasts visit several breweries to sample different types of beer.

Craft beer tours are already available in the inner west as well as in Adelaide and Melbourne and other parts of the country.

But I’d like to see more.

Sydney’s inner west is just one area with thriving small breweries providing jobs for locals, supplying pubs and restaurants and attracting tourists.

Regional centres around Australia are developing local brewing centres as well as the capital cities.

So it is time for governments to work with the industry to set this already promising industry on the path to greater prosperity.

In particular, we should be working with beer producers to lift exports, particularly to Asia.

In China alone, for example, the market for premium beer is expected to be worth $35 billion by 2020. Chinese purchases of Australian wine have skyrocketed in recent years. We should add beer to the menu.

Because beer is perishable, Australia’s proximity to such massive markets offers us a real advantage over potential rivals.

The need for continued economic growth to drive job creation demands that Australia grasp these opportunities.

Anthony Albanese is the Member for Grayndler and Shadow Minister for Tourism. Inner west brewery Willie the Boatman named a beer after him.

This piece was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald  on Monday, 20 March 20, 2017