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Friday, 7 September 1984
Page: 634

Senator WALSH (Minister for Resources and Energy)(9.39) —I will reply briefly to some of the arrant nonsense I have had inflicted on me for the last half hour or so. The Australian Democrats seem to be in their usual state of confusion about the wine industry. I think last year they introduced a Bill to impose a tax on the advertising of alcohol which, to the extent that it would have deterred wine products from being advertised, would have had an adverse effect on the wine industry. They do not have any problem reconciling their actions in that instance with the arguments they have been putting today. Likewise, the usual state of confusion prevailed when Senator Mason mentioned the effects from the package of changes that are being made to the taxation of wine which will lower from 35 per cent to 23 per cent the effective rate of protection. That, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the amendment which is now before the Committee, an amendment which would reduce from 10.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent the sales tax applicable to all wine, whether domestically produced or imported. But I guess to think through a problem as complicated as that is beyond the normal capacity of the merchants of froth and bubble who populate the Democrats' ranks.

We heard a hysterical presentation from Senator Jessop of estimates based on obsolete data, the final outcome of which was that he said there would be a $13m decline in grape growers' incomes because of this measure. He went on to attribute a good deal of that to the correction of the breach of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade rules; which Australia had been breaching for 20- odd years. I ask Senator Jessop to note that if that breach of the GATT rules, of which GATT is now fully aware, had not been corrected, we would have placed in jeopardy not $13m of income but the billion dollar beef industry, our billion dollar beef exports, because we would have invited retaliatory action by other GATT partners against Australian beef exports, dairy product exports and others.

Senator MacGibbon —You are doing nothing to support our traditional markets.

Senator WALSH —What was that, Biggles?

Senator MacGibbon —You are doing nothing to maintain our beef markets overseas.

Senator WALSH —I am well aware, of course, in response to Senator MacGibbon, that the actions of the previous Government were characterised by noisy failure after noisy failure with respect to the marketing of beef. From 1978 until the previous Government was ignominiously removed from office in 1983, it presided over a steadily declining percentage share of the Japanese market being filled by Australian beef. So if I were Senator MacGibbon, I would not raise that question.

Senator Jessop most remarkably said that the Opposition is pledged to repeal this sales tax on wine which is currently being considered by the Committee. I am often mystified by just where the Opposition stands, almost as mystified as I am about where the Democrats stand on a variety of issues. But given that Mr Howard said only last week that he would keep the wine tax, I do not know what value to place on Senator Jessop's pledge that it will be repealed. It seems to me that the most defensible deduction to be drawn is that one should place absolutely no credibility on Senator Jessop's pledge that the Opposition would repeal the sales tax on wine, in the unlikely event, of course, of its ever forming a government again.

He did ask-and this was probably the only section of his speech which really deserved a reply-a couple of questions about the refund of the excise which had been paid on fortifying spirit last year. This excise will be repayable, of course, because if it were not repaid, the subsequent decision to impose a general sales tax would have effectively taxed twice some fortified wines. The answer is that there has been a regulation-Statutory Rule 1984 No. 219, if Senator Jessop wants the reference-issued in the name of Senator Button that applications for refund of the excise must be lodged with the Collector of Customs by 30 June 1985. Refunds will not be allowed on applications received after that date. I am advised that once the application has been received the payment should be made within a week or two.