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Tuesday, 14 August 1906

Mr FOWLER (Perth) .- I have already entered a protest against proceeding with this motion, seeing that the proposals of the Government are in a very crude and immature state. I again urge that we should proceed no further with this particular matter, in view of the fact that the Government are not able to explain whether they are prepared to introduce certain conditions into these specific arrangements for duties, whether they are going; to embody them in a series of resolutions, or whether, as has been suggested by the Tariff Commission, it is intended to propose modifications of the Distillation Act, the Excise Act, and other Acts dealing with this item. I may point out that the Tariff" Commission make a recommendation similar to that contained in the amendment of the honorable member for Bland, with a view to protecting the consumer against the use of immature spirits, whether locally made or imported.. Our idea was that it should be dealt with apart from the specific duties. The Government should give the Committee some definite Information as to the plan on which they propose to work in dealing with all the matters that are naturally included in the scope of this debate. On page 5 of the recommendations submitted by the Tariff Commission honorable members will find No. 8 to read as follows: -

That no spirits imported into the Commonwealth shall be permitted to go into human consumption within two years from the date of their first shipment, unless the Minister of Trade and Customs is satisfied that a period of" two years has elapsed from the date of distillation of the same.

All these matters could be much better dealt with apart from the resolutions imposing specific duties, but if we are to have- no explanation from the Government as to the method of procedure they intend to adopt, I and others will have to support the amendment of the honorable member' for Bland. I can well imagine that if we are compelled to follow this scrappy and piecemeal method right through the proposed alterations to the Tariff, we shall have produced a very remarkable document indeed by the time we are finished. I am entirely in accord with the proposal of the honorable member for Bland. It is absolutely necessary that the health of the people who use spirits should be protected in the direction indicated. There is not the least doubt that a large quantity of unwholesome immature spirit is imported into the Commonwealth. It is not strictly relevant to this question, but I must also mention that a considerable quantity of this class of spirit that comes into consumption is produced within the Commonwealth. In this matter it is the duty of Parliament to say that those who indulge in spirits shall be protected so far as is considered necessary and reasonable by authorities on the subject. There is, .in this connexion, attached to the report of the Tariff Commission, a supplementary recommendation, signed by four members of the Commission, in favour of a differentiation of is. per gallon less than the existing Customs duty in respect of certain alcoholic liquors, admittedly of the highest quality. I should like to give the Committee an opportunity to vote upon that, but again I am in a difficulty as to where and how the Government propose to deal with such an issue. Then we have yet another issue which may probably arise, and that is the question of a preference to British goods. We have heard a great deal of preferential trade from those protectionists who have been favouring the country with their eloquence of late. I am anxious in this connexion to give those honorable gentlemen who are so loyal to the Empire an opportunity to prove their loyalty by making a differentiation in respect of spirits . proved to be of British origin. Again, I ask the Government to :aV 1 where tthat provision should be introduced ; whether it should be introduced in connexion with the imposition of these specific duties, or in the way suggested in the Tariff Commission's report.

Mr Austin Chapman - Does the honorable member suggest a higher duty against foreign spirits?

Mr FOWLER - I suggest a duty which, I believe, is a right and proper one to protect the revenue under ordinary conditions, but beyond that I would give an opportunity to the Postmaster-General and other members of the Committee to show that they are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices which they have so often declared their willingness to make in connexion with goods which are entirely of British origin.

Mr Glynn - But do foreign spirits compete in this market ? Do we get whisky from America as well as from England?

Mr FOWLER - There is no doubt that a great deal of inferior whisky, socalled, comes to us from outside the Empire.

Mr Isaacs - We prefer that the foreigner should make the sacrifice rather than ourselves.

Mr FOWLER - It happens, and this supports the suggestion I submit, that the better qualities of alcoholic liquors in the shape of whiskies that are imported to Australia are produced within the Empire, and those which admittedly are deleterious to health come from outside the Empire. The way is,' therefore, clear for those who are prepared to adopt in this connexion the scheme of preference of which we have heard so much recently. With regard to the proposal for a duty of 15s. per gallon, I have no hesitation in saying that if it be the intention of the Government to obtain the highest amount of revenue from this source, they are going the wrong way about it.

Sir John Forrest - That is a matter of opinion.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It was the opinion of the Government when the Tariff was being discussed.

Sir John Forrest - It is not my opinion.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The right honorable gentleman was a member of the Government to which I refer.

Sir John Forrest - It was not my opinion then, nor is it now.

Mr FOWLER - Might I remind the right honorable gentleman that a few years ago the Government of Victoria indorsed a recommendation of a Tariff Commission that made full and searching inquiries into this question, and which was to the effect that 14s. per gallon was about as high as it was safe to go in connexion with the revenue.

Sir John Forrest - I have heard that old story before.

Mr FOWLER - They also pointed out that the higher duty had led to the use of a great quantity of inferior spirit. There was very little hesitation at that time on the part of the State Parliament of Victoria in accepting the recommendation that the duty should not be higher than 14s. per gallon.

Sir John Forrest - When Federation was established, the duty in two States was 15s. per gallon, and in another State 16s. per gallon.

Mr FOWLER - I know that in Western.Australia the dutv was 16s. per gallon.

Mr Glynn - And the charge was is. per nobbier.

Sir John Forrest - Only on the goldfields.

Mr FOWLER - The Treasurer will recollect that at that time the State of Western Australia was passing through a period of remarkable prosperity, and that people would put down is. for the same quantity of whisky as could be obtained for 6d. in the eastern States.

Sir John Forrest - Does the honorable member mean that if the duty were higher it would reduce the use of whisky here?

Mr FOWLER - In view of all the evidence which was submitted, and of certain evidence which was not submitted I thoroughly indorse the proposal made by the Chairman of the Commission, and approved by all its members that the duty on imported spirits should not be higher than 14s. per gallon. We may each have our own idea with regard to other items in the Commission's recommendations, some of which I intend to touch upon at the proper time, but in this particular case, in view of the evidence, the Commission was unanimously of opinion, that" it would be a serious mistake to levy a duty of more than 14s. per gallon on imported spirits.

Sir John Forrest - Why?

Mr FOWLER - First, because it would entail a loss of revenue, and second, because it would lead to the consumption of an inferior quality of spirits. In view of the evidence before honorable members, and of the experience of most of the other States, especially those which have the largest population, and in which the conditions are most nearly normal, it rests with the Government, I contend, to show reason why the additional duty of is. per gallon on imported spirits should be imposed. So far, I have heard from Ministers nothing beyond a mere expression of opinion to justify the increase, and if they car, give no stronger evidence than that I venture to think that honorable members would prefer the more definite expression of opinion, based upon a consideration of the evidence, from the Tariff Commission.

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