A Parliamentary review committee has recommended a “middle ground” over the controversial Queensland takeaway rules which initially ruled out beer.
There was uproar last month when the Justice Legislation (COVID-19 Emergency Response – Permanency) Amendment Bill 2021 was initially published with stipulations on the liquor reform segment of the bill which excluded beer and pre-mixed drinks within its takeaway liquor arrangements.
The Amendment Bill aims to make permanent certain temporary regulatory measures that were introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the measures which it was suggested could become permanent was the COVID-19 allowances for cafes and restaurants to sell takeaway alcohol up to 2.25 litres – equivalent to three bottles of wine, or a six-pack of beer, cider of pre-mixed drinks – alongside meals.
It would mean amending the Liquor Act 1992 to allow certain licensees holding a subsidiary on-premise licence to be allowed to sell takeaway alcohol with a meal.
However the initial proposals for the Amendment Bill following stakeholder submissions excluded beer and pre-mix cocktails for a number of reasons, one of them being that both “have a very high percentage of alcohol by volume, therefore posing a greater risk of adverse intoxication”.
The State Development and Regional Industries Committee, tasked with reviewing these amendments, has now recommended it be passed, but with several compromises with regards to takeaway liquor reform.
The committee recommended that the Department of Justice and Attorney-General consider amending the Bill to provide the option of allowing 1.5 litres of either wine, beer cider or pre-mixed drinks, to be sold with a takeaway meal in a major win for the brewing and hospitality industries.
Committee chair Chris Whiting MP highlighted the strong representation from the Restaurant & Catering Association and the Independent Brewers Association and commended them for their input in the committee’s process.
The IBA told the committee that allowing venues to sell takeaway liquor during the COVID period regardless of limitations of their licence was a “much-needed distribution channel” during a very challenging time for small business in the state.
Scenic Rim Brewery wrote that the legislation was “not equitable and further entrenches the businesses that currently have a near monopoly on takeaway sales while once again failing to provide the craft beer industry in Queensland with greater market access”.
White Brick Brewing, which was forced to close during the COVID period, said the Bill appeared “completely at odds with the Queensland Craft Brewing Strategy”.
However opposition stakeholders such as Queensland Hotels Association said that the bill was “an opportunistic representation” and that it was not intended to significantly expand the scope of takeaway liquor licensing which the organisation already said was “fit-for-purpose”.
Having considered the issues raised by the stakeholders, the committee’s Chris Whiting said there was “opportunity to find a middle ground that meets the needs of all parties and supports small businesses as well as harm minimisation strategies”.
Despite initial allegations regarding the alcohol content of beer, which caused raised eyebrows following the publication of the initial bill proposals, the DJAG said that the limitations on the sale of beer were made “not on any specific study or research associated with alcohol content”.
David Kitchen, director at the IBA, argued that beer was the only alcoholic product that provides low alcohol options, pointing out that the two biggest-selling beers in Queensland are 3.5 per cent abv, but a bottle of wine is 12 to 14 per cent.
The committee ultimately made the recommendation that the bill should allow restaurants and cafes to have the option of selling 1.5 litres of wine, beer, cider or pre-mixed drinks for sale with a takeaway meal, up to 10pm.
The recommendations were met with approval from the industry.
“Now the pressure is on the Attorney General, and she will have to decide whether she wants to go against her own commission,” said Wes Lambert, CEO of the Restaurant & Catering Association.
“The RCA was proud to be able to advocate on behalf of the café and catering industries to ensure all forms of takeaway alcohol would be recommended by the committee, and we’re happy they recommended the quantity of beer wine and premix spirits they did.
“We will be calling on the Attorney General to honour the committee’s recommendations – or what’s the purpose of commissions?”