A publican says slashing pubs and clubs' beer tax is "one of the best ideas I've ever heard in a long time".
Andrew Lethlean is among those backing Australian brewers' push to halve the excise rate on draft beer to help lift the hospitality sector out of its COVID-19 hangover.
"COVID-19 had a massive impact on people's behavior," the owner of multiple premises, including the Metropolitan, said.
"People are working from home and not spending as much time in their CBD offices.
"So they are not going out for lunch with friends or having drinks with colleagues after work. Those social networks are changing because people are not getting out and about as much."
The problem is being reinforced by a longer-term trend, Bendigo publican Mr Lethlean said.
It is cheaper to buy takeaway drinks and the hospitality scene is paying the price.
Mr Lethlean did not have an exact figure on how much the excise rate should be cut by.
He did think it would need to be substantial enough to sell the public on the idea of going out with friends and paying a reasonable price.
The Brewers Association of Australia believes the cut should be 50 per cent.
It believes that would allow small-to-medium-sized pubs buying 15 kegs a week to save $465 a week in beer tax and pay down debts incurred over the pandemic.
Significant cuts would also help pubs tackle any future lockdowns and ease the squeeze of those still struggling with patron capacity limits, Brewers Association chief executive John Preston said.
"Beer anchors pubs and clubs, and these businesses need a break," he said.
New industry sales data shows there was a 30 per cent fall in draught beer sales in 2020 compared to the previous year, representing more than $1 billion in lost revenue for pubs and clubs.
It showed the brewing industry and hospitality sector carried the cost of tipping out 373,500 kegs - equivalent to about 44 million schooners - when venues closed last year.
The Brougham Arms is one of the hotels where the pub trade is yet to recover, publican Scott Macumber said.
"There's been no positive news to entice people back," he said.
"We've had years and years of tax increases, at least twice a year. Never once has it gone down. We are getting to the point where going to the pub really is an expensive thing to do.
"That money does not go to the publican - it goes to the government. So as a beer drinker and as a publican, I think the lower the excise, the better."
- with AAP