Hoteliers, brewers, winemakers and other representatives of Australia's powerful alcohol industry are calling for a temporary freeze on automatic tax hikes on booze, saying coronavirus lockdowns have devastated their sector and the change would help kickstart their recovery.
Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost in recent months as sweeping coronavirus restrictions closed hotels, restaurants, cafes and clubs across the country, smashing the tourism and hospitality sectors and putting businesses under severe financial strain, the groups say.
The call for a reprieve lasting at least 12 months on CPI-linked hikes in alcohol excise - which applies to beer and spirits - comes shortly before the next increase is due in August and as the government plans the federal budget. The excise is also increased in February.
The automatic CPI-linked increases on alcohol excise were introduced in 1983. The five groups urging the federal government to freeze the hikes are the Australian Hotels Association, the Brewers Association of Australia, Australian Grape and Wine, Clubs Australia and Spirits and Cocktails Australia.
Brett Heffernan, chief executive of the Brewers Association, said total beer sales in Australia were down a massive 44 per cent in May compared to May last year.
"Right now consumers don't need higher taxes. We're in an environment now where politicians of every persuasion are encouraging people to get down to their local to support local jobs. It seems contradictory to, at the same time, be jacking up a tax on having a beer with your mates," he said.
I think the critical issue is that for Australia to recover, we need the pubs, clubs and restaurants sector to recover as well.Tony Battaglene, CEO of Australian Grape and Wine
"It's been going up every six months for the last 37 years. It just creeps up that little bit every six months, and it's now to the point where we're the fourth-highest beer taxed nation on Earth," he said.
Mr Heffernan estimated that the amount of revenue forgone by a 12 month freeze on automatic inflation-linked rises would be about $70 million. "We would strongly argue at this time that that $70 million is much better off in punters' pockets than in Treasury coffers."
The alcohol excise raised about $4 billion for federal coffers in 2018-19, according to the Brewers Association, which represents major brewers CUB, Lion and Coopers.
Wine is taxed differently and does not face the same excise regime but Australian Grape and Wine, which represents wine grape and wine producers, supports the push.
"I think the critical issue is that for Australia to recover, we need the pubs, clubs and restaurants sector to recover as well, because that's a major contributor to Australia's economy," said Tony Battaglene, the group's chief executive.
Mr Battaglene said the proposal was "a relatively cheap option for the government...but a really effective way at getting money back into the sectors that need it for recovery".
While their attitude to the beer excise proposal is not known, key government leaders have been photographed and filmed showing their enthusiasm for beer a number of times in recent years, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison photographed as far afield as Cloncurry downing a beer last year.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was filmed pulling beers for members of the Auburn Bowls Club in Melbourne on the day after the Coalition's 2019 election victory, and was photographed just three weeks ago serving beers at a Glenferrie pub.