Why do Australian politicians hate spirits so much?

Australian distillers pay up to 10 times more tax than the average winemaker.
Australian distillers pay up to 10 times more tax than the average winemaker. Photo: Shuttershock

COMMENT

If I hear one more person complain to me about the outrageous cost of spirits in Australia, I swear to god I will scream.

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore. Spirits prices in Australia are crazy. Ridiculous. Insane. And it's not my bloody fault.

Stuart Gregor, co-founder of Four Pillars Gin and President of the Australian Distillers Association.
Stuart Gregor, co-founder of Four Pillars Gin and President of the Australian Distillers Association. Photo: Fiora Sacco

The simple fact is that we Aussies pay more tax per bottle of spirits than anywhere in the western world. See that bottle of Four Pillars gin right there on the shelf for $75? Well that includes $23.17 of tax that goes straight to the federal government, before the 10 per cent GST is added to the selling price.

Thus the feds will take a little more than $30 from each bottle you buy. That amount will go up again in August and again next February. Since we started Four Pillars in December 2013, we have had nine tax increases. Yep, nine. I need to lie down.

A bottle of Four Pillars in Los Angeles sells for $US35 ($45) and has 49¢ of US federal government excise applied to it. I will say that again slowly: Forty. Nine. Cents. Our excise in Australia is now 50 times higher than the US.

Spirits prices in Australia are crazy. Ridiculous. Insane. And it's not my bloody fault.

What does this mean? It means that there is a wonderful, thriving distilling community employing tens of thousands of people right across the US where people can sell and buy spirits at an equivalent standard drink cost to beer and wine. Does that make sense? Of course it does. It's called a volumetric tax – you simply tax booze on the volume of booze in the bottle, regardless of whether it's made from grape, grain or potato.

In Australia we have a different tax on wine, beer and spirits because, well, because that's just the way it is. We guys and girls making spirits pay up to 10 times more tax than the average winemaker, who also receives wine equalisation tax rebates (seriously, do NOT get me started on those) and about 50 per cent more than the average brewery.

A punter's hip pocket is penalised simply because they would rather drink Starward whisky than VB, or a Never Never Distilling negroni ahead of a McLaren Vale shiraz.

So please, here's a request from me to you. Next time you bump into your local member of parliament and shout him or her a drink, ask them why they hate spirits so much. Ask them why they want to stifle an industry that could employ thousands of people across Australia and maybe even build a vibrant export industry.

And then wait for their response. Trust me – you'll have plenty of time to line up your next round.

Stuart Gregor is the co-founder of Four Pillars Gin and president of the Australian Distillers Association.