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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1636

Senator MESSNER —I rise to speak about the problems of the wine industry. Honourable senators will clearly remember the antagonistic attitude of the Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, to the wine industry and that of Senator Cook from Western Australia, when Senator Walsh addressed himself to the fluctuations in the sales of wine over the last 12 months in response to a question from Senator Cook recently. The point that was raised at that time was that the wine tax, which this Government saw fit to impose upon the wine industry in the Budget of last year, somehow, by Senator Walsh's twisted imagination, resulted in an increase in sales of wine. The point that was made in response to that argument at the time was that the industry, of course, was selling substantially more bulk wine which was the product of larger producers, but certainly the sales for smaller producers were declining as a result of the imposition of a wine tax.

It is those smaller producers to which I draw attention today. It is, I think, significant that even though Senator Walsh disparagingly refers to small wine producers as being tin-pot, some 200 of those wineries operate throughout Australia. It is their strategic location which is of such great importance to certain sections of our rural economy. One has only to recognise the place of small wineries based along the River Murray, for instance, in my State of South Australia, which are the sources of a great deal of tourist interest and, hence, people coming from interstate tend to stop over and spend a considerable amount of money and their time enjoying the fruits of that area as well as the wines. That, of course, means more tourist dollars in circulation for South Australia. If anybody feels put out about this I must say that that occurs all over Australia where small wineries are established. One has only to think of the South Eastern regions of Western Australia around Albany where there is a growing wine industry and the Hunter River districts of New South Wales as well as those areas in the north eastern parts of Victoria which produce very fine quality wines and are major tourist areas as well.

For that reason, we have to consider that wineries are not just producers of wine but major tourist magnets which add significantly to the economies of local areas. Certainly, that is of great assistance to the small country towns which lack other kinds of facilities, and industries which can employ people. That is very significant and should not be overlooked by this Government or the Senate. Senator Walsh is totally misinformed on the position of the wine industry, if he does not deliberately misunderstand it. In his remarks recently he sought to argue that if there were--

Senator McIntosh —You are being controversial, aren't you?

Senator MESSNER —Matters do not have to be non-controversial. We are discussing matters of public interest. Mr Acting Deputy President, you might be able to inform Senator McIntosh as to the real function of this period of debate and tell him that it is not for raising non-controversial issues but issues which may not be brought to any kind of vote.

Senator Reid —I take a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. This matter has been discussed before. It was discussed, I think, in the last General Business debate and at a Whips' meeting quite recently. This is not a period for non-controversial debate. It is a period in lieu of first reading debates. If the Government were to insist on it being totally non-controversial it would, first of all, preclude speeches such as that made by Senator McIntosh and, in any event, it would mean that we would need to go back to the traditional first reading debates so that we would have the opportunity to discuss these matters.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —There is no point of order. The matter is not covered in our Standing Orders. It is a private arrangement between parties.

Senator MESSNER —Whilst it may not be covered in Standing Orders that is the arrangement and it certainly is the understanding of all honourable senators on this side. All the matters raised today by Opposition senators have been controversial.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is nothing in Standing Orders which I, presiding at the moment, can rule on. It is a matter between the parties. That might be respected by almost all honourable senators but it is nothing to do with the Chair.

Senator MESSNER —I again refer to the fact that Senator Walsh, the Minister for Finance, has, on many occasions, sought to argue that he can improve the status of the wine industry somehow and increase its sales by raising taxes. As we all know, the Government imposed a tax on wine in the last Budget. It seems from all the questions that have been asked in this place by Government senators, Senator Cook in particular, and the remarks of Senator Walsh, that the Government is softening us up for a further tax on wine. I draw attention to that because I think it is very significant that in the light of all the discussions that are going on about taxation at the moment, the introduction of indirect taxes of various kinds, capital gains taxes, death duties and everything else, obviously the Government is starting to focus its attention on wine again. Perhaps it is making sure that the community understands that it has not seen the last of taxation on wine.

I draw your attention, Mr Acting Deputy President, to my remarks earlier that there are 200 small wineries in this country which are suffering at the moment from a fall in sales as a result of the imposition of the tax last year. Any further increase in that taxation on wine is sure to lead to further problems for those little industries which, as I pointed out, are extraordinarily valuable in their own local communities and which provide employment, not only in a direct sense but also indirectly through tourism and other ancillary industries. For that reason, I believe that Senator Walsh should take note of these remarks, form some much clearer views about the value of the wine industry to local communities and ensure that those points are taken into account if the Government is going to impose even higher taxation on the wine industry.

I hope that Senator Walsh will be able to clear our minds on this in the very near future and that we will get a statement from him to the effect that he does not intend to raise taxation any further on the wine industry. Certainly, if he does, he can expect vigorous opposition from this quarter and from all Opposition South Australian senators, with the support of New South Wales senators as well, no doubt. Perhaps there will be support for the Opposition's point of view even from Government senators from South Australia. We know that they are developing an independent streak these days. Some Government senators are even speaking out against the Government's assets test. Perhaps they will see the light and decide to stand up for their own States in this House by ensuring that any proposal for a further imposition on the wine industry is defeated by voting with the Opposition, should it come to a vote later. The issue is one of great consequence to the industry. I warn the Government that it is on the edge of a turmoil, should it decide to impose further taxation on the wine industry.