The usual mire of the Federal Budget held an exciting surprise for craft brewers last night with the announcement that the government will be extending the Microbreweries Excise Refund Scheme, with effect from 1July2012. According to the information releases the government will increase the maximum refund amount from $10,000 to $30,000 and remove the current production eligibility threshold of 30,000 litres of beer.
In exact terms, the amendments mean that breweries will now be eligible to receive an excise refund of 60percent of excise paid, up to a maximum amount of $30,000 per financial year. Even better is the guarantee that successful local breweries will not be penalised as they expand their production.
Unsurprisingly the craft brewing industry has been unanimous in their support this morning as they welcomed the move.
According to Owen Johnston, of Moobrew in Hobart, reform is a very positive step for the small brewery industry, with the most important change being the removal of the refund threshold volume.“By removing the volume threshold, brewers around 30,000 litres can now grow their business without losing their tax advantage,” he says. “This, combined with the increase in the available rebate, helps make small brewery businesses more financially sustainable.”
Unsurprisingly, his sentiments have been echoed in other quarters of the craft brewing industry. John Stallwood is the head brewer at Nail Brewing as well as the owner and founder of Microbrewing.com. It is through this latter venture that he has made his thoughts on the state of beer excise well known. “The good news about excise change is that the government is finally listening to 130 microbreweries complaining,” he says. “But it’s been over 10 years since excise last changed.” Those decade old changes were prompted by the successful “It’s Your Shout” campaign launched by the major breweries.
“Although the $30,000 is not enough it’s a good help,” he continues. “And a big positive is that there is no volume cap on the excise rebate, so all microbreweries can get it.” It was this cap that was causing so much grief for the industry – once they passed it they lost their rebate, making growth extremely difficult. “I think it’s a big step forward in microbrewers’ relationship with the government. Our numbers have grown so they have to listen.”
Another active voice in the anti-excise camp is Jane Huntington, General Manager at Two Metre Tall. Well-known for her vocal opposition to the tax constraints placed on small brewers, she has worked with the Greens to lobby the government for reform. “I’m pleased to hear news of the changes in last night’s Federal Budget to the Microbrewery Refund Scheme,” she says. “It’s a welcome reward for many years hard work lobbying all sides of politics.”
Elaborating further, she concurs that the removal of the 30,000 litre cap on production is the most exciting news for brewers, as all those who are legally and economically independent of another brewery will now be able to access the new rebate regardless of their production levels.“The Government is sending a clear message that they wish to stimulate growth in the craft beer sector and to encourage and support independent breweries across the country,” she says.
While she acknowledges that the increase from $10,000 to $30,000 is a financial drop in the ocean, Jane is happy that the Government has recognised that small craft brewers are worthy of tax relief to help them combat the duopoly that dominates the industry. That said, her campaigning days are far from over. “I’ll, continue to lobby government to ensure we work towards a more realistic rebate figure.”
It should also be noted that a large debt of gratitude is owed to Independent MP Rob Oakeshott and Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne for their campaign to have the reforms passed. Senator Milne released a statement this afternoon supporting the changes and calling for further action. “I’ve been campaigning for this change… since 2008,” she said. “The lifting of the 60% excise rebate cap from $10,000 to $30,000 is welcome, but… [it] does not go far enough. The Government has made good steps on this reform. Why not complete the task and grow more regional jobs?”
So it is clear that while the budgetary changes are welcomed by the industry, it is but the first step forward in a long campaign to have the Government acknowledge the depth of support needed by Australia’s small, independent craft brewers.