Tasmanian Whisky Week

Earlier this month we marked Tasmanian Whisky Week, celebrating the achievements and craft of Tasmanian distillers. Tasmanian Whisky Week offers an excellent excuse to treat yourself to a nip or two or three of Australia's and indeed some of the world's finest whiskies. In the few short years that it has been running, it has become a showcase for our state's premier distilling industry. Travel restrictions meant that this year's Whisky Week was quieter than usual—but those restrictions didn't stop the diehards. There are more than 30 distilleries in Tasmania and at least 20 are in my electorate, with more on the way. Nationwide there are now more than 300 spread throughout 84 electorates.

As it happens, the only distillery I could get to during Whisky Week was the New Norfolk rum distillery, which doesn't make whisky. Rum made for a fine substitute. The family behind the New Norfolk rum distillery is investing millions into their venture. Their vision includes a $15 million hotel. The investment is significant. In Oatlands, John Ibrahim is investing $30 million in building a state-of-the-art distillery that will transform that historic southern Midlands town. Stories like this are occurring all over the country, breathing new life into regional Australia. The Australian spirit industry has come a long way in a few short decades. It is a significant economic contributor to regional communities in terms of jobs, taxes and tourism, and is a sought after consumer of quality and usually hyperlocal agricultural produce.

Last year I cofounded, with New South Wales Nationals senator Perin Davey, the Parliamentary Friends of Australian Spirits group. Plans to officially launch the group have been delayed due to the cancellations of sittings and public access to the parliament. I am hopeful that we will be able to launch the group later this year. The aim of the group—which I am pleased to report enjoys wide and enthusiastic support amongst members and senators—is to provide a bridge between this exciting and growing industry and legislators. The Australian spirits industry is highly regulated and highly taxed, and it is important that we keep ourselves open to making whatever changes are necessary to ensure that the sector continues to grow and can compete fairly on the world stage.

Over the next few weeks I expect distillers will be calling their local MPs to have a word about some reforms that they would like to see, and I stand with them. It is time for reform, particularly as the industry grapples with the severe impacts of COVID on tourism related sales. In April 2020, spirits producers witnessed sales volume declines of 21 per cent for full-bottled spirits and a further 37 per cent for ready-to-drink. Distillers in Tasmania have reported to me revenue declines of up to 80 per cent due to the sudden closure of distillery doors.

There is no doubt that the spirits industry enjoys wide support in this parliament, and I do implore every member and senator to get behind this industry and make whatever reforms are necessary to see it continue to grow.