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Thursday, 20 March 1997
Page: 2682


Mr ZAMMIT(12.37 p.m.) —I am pleased to join this debate on the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill (No.1) 1997 and I note that the shadow minister, the member for Hotham (Mr Crean) has indicated that the opposition will be supporting the amendments to the bill.

The purpose of the bill is to amend the schedule to the Excise Tariff Act 1921 to ensure the continuing excisability of all beverages containing distilled alcohol, including spirits, regardless of their alcoholic content. The important thing here is that this is a bit of housekeeping legislation and the intention is quite simply to close off a loophole.

The financial impact of this bill is virtually zero; there is no financial impact. The amendments proposed in the act only clarify the law as outlined and involve no change to the excise treatment of beverages containing distilled alcohol. As I said earlier, it will have no financial impact. However, conversely it could mean that, unless there is retrospective amendment to the act, the government will have a contingent liability of some $12.6 million. When I first saw the bill, there was a degree of retrospectivity about it. As someone who strongly voices concerns when the word `retrospectivity' comes into play, I must say that was a warning signal for me to have a look in more detail as to what it really means with respect to retrospectivity.

I believe in this instance that the amendments are justifiable on the grounds that they are backdated to 3 February 1996 because this will remove the technical loophole in the tariff act which was uncovered by the decision of the court to make the request by the company seeking the removal of the tariff acceptable. There is no reason to doubt that the court has acted in the best interests of the parliament in bringing down the decision that it has. This will not require the retrospective recovery of any excise duty from the manufacturers of the alcoholic beverages as the excise duty has continued to be paid by the manufacturers under deposit. This will protect the government under any claims for recovery of this duty. As I said earlier on, the bill is more in the nature of a housekeeping bill, and I strongly support the amendments.