Feds wash hands of sanitiser

By Michael Roberts | posted on June 18, 2020

AN ALBANY distiller, who answered Government pleas to make hand sanitiser, has been left high and dry with thousands of litres of unwanted product as overseas imports flood the market and demand levels out.

Only a couple of months ago you had a better chance of winning Lotto than securing yourself a bottle of hand sanitiser from the supermarkets.

As panic buying hit its peak, hospitals kept the liquid gel under lock and key, while some retailers charged inflated prices for bottles that didn’t even contain alcohol.

With national stocks thinning, the Federal Government approached Australian spirit makers to help meet sky rocketing demand.

Cameron Syme, the founder of Great Southern Distilling Company, said Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews invited him to a round table discussion on increasing local production.

To fast-track the process, Government even removed requirements for companies to seek manufacturing approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), provided they follow one of two recipes endorsed by the World Health Organization.

Mr Syme had little interest in the venture from a financial point-of-view but was willing to do his part during a pandemic.

“I wasn’t interested in making hand sanitiser,” he said.

“A number of schools and businesses said they needed it. I had three emails from GPs in this region saying ‘please can we make it? We can’t get it.”

But now the whisky and gin distiller says he and other spirit makers around the country have been left with huge stockpiles of product as cheaper Chinese imports flood the market.

“We are sitting on eight thousand litres that there is no demand for,” Mr Syme said.

What makes matters worse for Great Southern Distilling is they had to buy ingredients in bulk because of stretched supply chains, leaving Mr Syme with a massive inventory of raw material.

“There’s distillers all around the country left with this stuff and don’t know what to do with it,” he said.

“We supplied 18,000 litres, we’ve been left with 8000 litres ready to go out and we’ve got materials to make another 20,000 litres because we had to buy a lot of stuff,” he said.

Mr Syme, who is the Vice President of the Australian Distillers Association, said he has approached Federal, State and Local governments to take some of the hand sanitiser off his hands, but with no success.

“Distillers were producing a quarter of a million litres a week around the country, but the problem was very few distillers were able to get contracts with Government,” he said.

“It’s particularly unfortunate that Government procurement have opted for overseas imports.”

With Australian distillers having to pay for new equipment and ingredients out of their own pocket, Mr Syme said spirit makers felt like they had been let down.

“I don’t want to whinge, but it is hard when Government asks us to help out,” he said.

“The Australian distillers who were asked to step up have been left holding the baby.”

Mr Syme said cheaper overseas hand sanitiser wasn’t necessarily made to the same standard required by the TGA.

“It’s a sign of the times when Australians look for overseas imports out of China, rather than domestically-made product,” he said.