Cider Australia, a coalition of cider growers, producers and manufacturers, is resisting lobbying efforts in Canberra by the spirits industry to overhaul the way alcohol is taxed that would quadruple the tax on a glass of cider.
The coalition has written to all members of Parliament in the lead-up to the May budget arguing that a new tax proposal by the spirits industry to tax cider at the same level as pre-mixed spirits would destroy a local industry that is creating jobs in the agricultural and manufacturing sector.
Cider Australia is supported by Foster's, the largest producer of cider in Australia with brands such as Bulmer's and Strongbow.
A spokesman for Cider Australia has labelled a budget proposal paper produced by the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia that calls for a tax rise on cider as "misleading, disingenuous and deceptive".
"Cider Australia has significant concerns in relation to the push for change to cider taxation, which is being heavily lobbied by the DSICA," a letter to all MPs reads.
"This body [the DSICA] is made up almost exclusively of multinational companies who rely on primary industry in their home countries, but are lobbying the Australian government to impose a killer tax on the Australian cider industry.
"Further, the DSICA lobby paper is purposefully misleading and deceptive in its 'reform of cider taxation' content."
The DSICA, which represents big liquor companies such as Diageo, Bacardi and Remy Cointreau, proposes a rationalised alcohol tax system based on a volumetric tax across all alcohol products that taxes drinks based on their alcohol content. The distilled spirits industry has argued that traditional ciders are robbing its market on the back of the massive price advantage they enjoy.
It argues that to consumers, ciders and pre-mixed spirits are the same, contain the same level of alcohol and should therefore be treated the same by the Tax Office.
Under its budget submission, traditional cider, currently taxed under the wine equalisation tax (WET) system, would have its tax rate lifted from roughly 23¢ per standard drink to the level paid by ready-to-drink spirits, which is about 95¢ per drink.
The DSICA believes this would raise $496 million in additional revenue over the forward estimates. In response, Cider Australia is calling for no overall increase in total revenue from the cider sector as well as a reform of the WET rebate to remove unintended recipients and alleviate unintended consequences of the system that are distorting supply decisions.
"Further, Cider Australia proposes that if any changes are made to the current WET scheme, then Australian-produced cider should be taxed in line with Australian-produced wine.
"This is the logical position for an industry that mirrors the wine industry from growers, producers and manufacturers through to sales and distribution.
"All Australian apple and pear growers and cider producers are calling on your support to reject the lobbying by the DSICA and to support the growing Australian cider industry and its local benefiters [sic], the Australian orcharding communities and families across the nation."
Foster's is also lobbying hard on the issue. "We are concerned that the imported spirits industry is again aggressively lobbying for reform to the taxation of traditional ciders," a Foster's government relations manager said in a letter to Cider Australia.
"The arguments raised ... fail to reflect the current situation relating to traditional cider and ignore the devastating impact an excise change would have on the traditional cider industry, as well as apple and pear producers."