Over the past decade the craft beer industry has come alive in Australia, and the signs are great for exponential growth over the next decade.
It is certainly ruffling a few feathers of the multinational liquor conglomerates, who are understandably trying to protect their meagre $40 billion annual domestic turnover by buying established craft beer brands, increasing production and contracting licensees and clubs around the country.
This leads us to our view that liquor licensing laws in NSW are cumbersome, out-dated and anti-competitive.
It would appear that the current legislation surrounding liquor licensing is geared towards the city and can disadvantage country areas. For a start, all decisions for new licences are state based and assessed by the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing (OLGR) in Sydney and then passed on to the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority Board, who make decisions based on OLGR recommendations. The only “local” input would be from the applicant themselves, any public submissions and local Police comment. It is frustrating that people with the power to make these decisions do not know the intricacies of local hospitality scenes and instead solely rely on liquor based statistics such as crime and density of liquor outlets per capita in the town to make decisions.
As the local industry for craft products is emerging, we need to see changes in legislation to allow the industry to grow. For example, local micro-breweries often do not have capacity to be able to wholesale to large established liquor shops, and these producers do not have cellar-doors for sale of their products. Therefore, these businesses need smaller outlets for the retail of their produce. With the exception of some hotels selling local items in their respective rural areas, there are often no outlets to fill this gap in the market. For a new outlet to sell any local craft produce for consumption off-site requires either a new Take-Away licence of Full Hotel Licence to be applied for and ultimately approved, which is expensive, time consuming and essentially a gamble as to the outcome. This isn’t particularly fair when large competitors who are already established or wish to enter the market have money, resources and potential political sway to influence decisions on licences. Furthermore, any applicant for a new licence is subject to significant scrutiny, time-delays and community impact assessments and treated the same as any broad-scale Irish branded warehouse liquor shop, even if it is a tiny bottle shop in a backstreet.
Another relevant example of the city/country divide is that country areas typically have less public transport, meaning people living out of town can not enjoy a locally produced beer or two on premises and get transport home, further increasing the demand to have these products available for consumption at home.
Whilst we all know the potential and real negative impacts alcohol can have on society, we would suggest the licensing rules do not do enough to encourage differentiation in the market and support such an exciting emerging industry.
Incremental changes to licensing such as the small bar licence introduction has helped the industry and is credited with helping to curb some anti-social behaviour experienced in traditional pubs and clubs, but more needs to be done to make a more equitable, market driven licensing environment; for example, changes to allow smaller independent retailers of craft produce.
Among other things, the craft liquor industry promotes the movement of drinking for the experience and supporting small business, and more needs to be done to promote and sustain what is essentially a growing number of small family owned businesses in NSW and indeed around the country. What can we do? Support local, support craft and most importantly, drink better, and liquor licensing legislation must adjust to reflect changing consumer demands.
Well, that’s our yearly quota of serious talk expired. Probably time for a beer. Just one though …
Drink less; taste more!