The indie brewers of New South Wales received a welcome boost today after the NSW State Government announced it would be paying for their membership of the Independent Brewers Association (IBA) for 12 months.
In addition to this timely $135,000 cash injection into IBA coffers, the NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW, Industry and Trade John Barilaro (pictured above right with IBA chair Peter Philip) confirmed a further $60,000 in sponsorship for the IBA’s BrewCon conference taking place on the Sunshine Coast in November. The financial support is recognition the industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and will be used by the association to provide assistance and resources for members during their recovery.
The IBA's general manager Kylie Lethbridge – who today celebrated her first day in the office with the team, having started her role on March 23 as venues closed – says the government's support shows it understands how the growth of independent breweries adds value to the state.
Following the launch of the NSW Independent Brewers Action Plan earlier in the year, she says John Barilaro in particular has shown a willingness to understand the needs of local brewers, especially the impact of coronavirus on their businesses and the wider industry.
“The deputy premier himself has just been easily accessible and really fantastic at understanding the issues, particularly at a time when the government was struggling to keep up with demands as well,” Kylie says.
“I think he understands the industry and now he’s really wedded to it, so it was really easy to have those conversations because he got it.”
Existing IBA members in New South Wales will have their memberships automatically extended by 12 months, with non-members invited to take advantage of free membership. Other state governments will be asked to match the offer, while the BrewCon sponsorship funds will go towards making the annual conference more affordable for members.
BrewCon might be taking place across the border in Queensland, but Kylie says the NSW government's sponsorship is recognition of how valuable the annual conference is to brewers in the state.
“I think they’re looking at it [as] they’re sponsoring their businesses to attend an event that is the annual conference of their industry,” she says.
“New South Wales will have a visible presence; they’ll have a stand at the expo and will be presenting an award at The Indies.”
Association chair Peter Philip, whose Camperdown brewery Wayward is one of those that will benefit from the NSW Government's funding, said the Deputy Premier's support for the industry "has been essential in delivering policy and regulatory changes that will have long-term benefits for every NSW brewery" and described the partnership with the state's brewers as "the first step toward recovery for NSW breweries and their employees”.
As well as providing close to $200,000 for the IBA, the NSW Government is lending its voice to calls for the Federal Government to provide tailored responses for the independent brewing industry, including modifying the small brewer excise refund scheme and developing a national strategy for the independent beer industry.
Kylie has been working closely with other state governments since joining the IBA and is keen to see them develop their own frameworks for working with local breweries; to date Queensland and New South Wales are the only states to have such frameworks in place.
“Even if we’re not engaging with them at the minute, we will be next, and it’s just a matter of building those relationships,” Kylie says, adding that the IBA is continuing to work with all levels of government in areas such as excise relief for brewers and on issues surrounding pregnancy labels on alcohol.
And, while she may have started the new role at a particularly unusual time, she's enjoyed the wild ride of the past few months and is keen to put her professional background in tourism and economic development to work for the benefit of indie brewers.
“It’s been fantastic," she says. "There’s not been one day that I haven’t absolutely loved the interactions, the work and [getting more of] an understanding of what’s going on.”