Reforms at all levels of government are necessary to unlock the vast tourism and employment opportunities presented by small breweries, Federal Labor MPs Anthony Albanese and Joel Fitzgibbon heard this week.
Albanese, the MP for Grayndler – the Sydney electorate that includes the city’s Inner West – organised the Thursday night meeting with local brewers, also attended by Fitzgibbon as Shadow Minister for Agriculture.
It was hosted by Camperdown’s Wayward Brewing Co, whose founder Peter Philip said his business had grown in the space of a year to employ ten full-time staff and ten casuals, a total of 15 full-time equivalents.
He said the brewery also has knock-on employment benefits for food trucks, delivery drivers, brewery tour operators and a multitude of other local suppliers.
With continued take-up of craft beer in Australia, Philip said the Inner West could sustain several more breweries providing further employment opportunities.
In the United States, he said the State of Oregon has 230 breweries for its population of four million people (one per 17,000 people), while San Diego has 180 breweries for its 3.2 million people (one per 18,000 people).
The Inner West will have at least ten breweries by the end of 2017, for a population of 300,000 (one brewery per 30,000 people).
But Philip said brewers are severely constrained by factors including red tape delaying brewery setup and expansion, the absence of any government support to grow the industry, and a punitive, illogical excise regime.
We hear you: Albo
Albanese said he called the meeting to encourage the local industry to put up a united front and engage with policy makers, to make clear its benefits for local jobs and the national economy.
“Places like where we are tonight, Wayward, this to me is a such a convivial place for people to gather,” he told Australian Brews News.
“There’s a sense of community here that is greater than in a big RSL or a large pub just selling beers that are mass produced. I think it’s really worthy of support.”
Albanese acknowledged brewers’ grievances were widespread and they require reforms at local, state and federal levels.
“I think it can be summarised in its first instance as a lack of respect, almost, for the industry [from government],” Albanese said.
“They don’t want to be treated with the sort of contempt that they are. This industry certainly wasn’t considered when the excise rate was established, in terms of the regime that mandates all the large kegs above smaller volumes, nor was it considered when we heard about the examples of craft brewers being denied access to local community festivals.
“What they’re really doing is asking to be listened to. It was very respectful, I think, the way they put forward the legitimate issues that they have.”
Fitzgibbon said the brewers clearly had some legitimate concerns. “They are discriminated against, there is no doubt about that. It’s hard to fix such historical problems, but they are making a very strong case,” he told Australian Brews News.
“They say politics is changing rapidly, so are consumer tastes. We all see the shift to craft beer and there’s an opportunity here to create significant employment opportunities.”
Albanese said that while his party was in opposition, he could still move a motion in the House of Representatives that would lift the profile of craft brewing and raise the issues of concern.
“Oppositions can raise issues, but it’s governments that can make decisions,” he said.
Also in attendance was Dave Phillips, founder of Dave’s Brewery Tours, whose Dave’s Travel and Events business will stage the first Sydney Beer Week in October this year.
He believes there are major opportunities for beer tourism in Sydney, and specifically the Inner West, that are yet to be exploited.
“It comes down to marketing Sydney as a beer destination. There are other cities such as Portland (US) out there selling themselves purely on the basis that it’s a beer town. Sydney has that potential, if it so chooses,” he told Australian Brews News.
Phillips estimates Inner West beer tourism is a market already worth around $10 million, a figure he claims could grow exponentially with government support and a coordinated effort from stakeholders.