The liquor industry is making its case to keep bottle shops open despite the risk posed by coronavirus.
Julie Ryan from Retail Drinks Australia, which represents all off-premise liquor outlets, said shutting the outlets would affect the whole supply chain of an industry that generated $42 billion for the economy.
Across Australia, grapes are being harvested and wine fermented as the industry continues production of another vintage.
Wineries and breweries are working on contingency plans if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in one of their facilities which could force workers to go home.
It’s a nerve-wracking time for everyone, and the liquor industry is hoping things are not made worse by tougher lockdown measures.
New Zealand has shut alcohol outlets as part of a four-week lockdown; the United Kingdom started its pub shutout earlier this week but threw the industry a lifeline by exempting off-premise outlets.
Ms Ryan said every part of the supply chain in Australia needed to remain open or the economic cost would be high.
‘An essential service in Australia’
Mitch Taylor from Australian Grape and Wine (AGW) said a shutdown that required people to work from home would be disastrous for this vintage, and cellar doors could also be in trouble if wine sales were curtailed.
He argued that alcohol was an essential service in Australia, not just because it provided jobs, but because it was part of the culture.
“It’s a way of life for many Australians [and] in moderation it’s good for your health,” he said.
Ms Ryan said bans in other countries were being modified to allow alcohol sales, partly because it would make it easier for people to self-isolate.
Western Australia, however, has introduced limits on alcohol sales and the liquor industry is worried other states will follow suit.
“The WA limits are complex and confusing and so low they are likely to lead to an increase in shopping, which is the exact opposite of what we’re meant to be doing at the moment,” Ms Ryan said.
Tax relief wanted
The industry has also called on the Commonwealth to give wine businesses a temporary break from the wine equalisation tax (WET).
“2020 has seen drought, fire, smoke and now COVID-19 place unprecedented pressure on the profitability of Australian grape and wine businesses,” AGW chief executive Tony Battaglene said.
“Removing the requirement to pay the WET, even for 12 months, would be a game-changer for many businesses currently looking at how they can retain their staff, pay suppliers and stay afloat.”