Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 14 August 1906

Mr TUDOR - That is hitting below the belt.

Mr CONROY - Can it be said that I am hitting below the belt when I point out what an honorable member does in the open - that he is endeavouring to build up a drink factory here? Surely when the votes cast by him in this House show that he is always in favour of trying to build up grog manufacturing shops - that his speeches when before temperance gatherings are not to be taken as indicative of his real feelings- he is not ashamed to have these facts stated. We have to consider, not the newspaper reports of speeches showing that he is in favour of temperance, but the votes recorded by him in this House - votes to put down temperance. The honorable member is not the only one who acts in this way. I dare say that we shall find two or three others who, as leaders of temperance leagues, strongly advocate temperance, casting votes that will have the effect of increasing the difference between the import and Excise duties to such an extent that grog manufactories must spring up. How is it that this industry did not spring up in New South Wales ? Simply and solely because care was taken by temperance men, who were true to their principles, not to permit this difference between the import duty and the Excise ; what these men advocated on the platform outside, they advocated in Parliament. In Victoria, however, there has been a very different state of affairs. However strongly certain men may speak in favour of temperance outside, they support this difference in duties within the walls of Parliament. The direct effect of such a policy, according to Mr. Joshua himself, would be to build up a great grog manufactory in Australia. The only reason the manufacture of drink is allowed im most countries is that it is not known very well how to get rid of it; but with Customs duties all deleterious liquor may, by proper supervision, be debarred. As I say, under the system proposed by the Government, the only result can be to build up a great grog manufactory.

Mr Hutchison - Spirits may pass the Customs, and be adulterated afterwards.

Mr CONROY - If so, then the States laws come into force; and that is another argument against the Government proposal. I never was a believer in prohibition, because I believe that the secrecy and the breaking of the law which result are more injurious than would be the drink traffic under proper control. In that opinion I am fortified by those who have had experience of the prohibition States of America. At any rate, the results of prohibition have not been what was expected. If the proposals of the Government be adopted, we shall simply throw away£150,000 per annum in revenue, in order to establish a big industry in the manufacture of drink. It seems almost incredible that the Prime Minister, who has prated of temperance, should have the audacity to countenance such a proposal, more especially in view of the fact that only 5 per cent, of the cost of production is expended in wages. In every other industry, I suppose, the cost of wages in proportion to the whole is at least four or five times 5 per cent.

Mr Mahon - What about the farmers who grow the grain? Do they not employ labour ?

Mr CONROY - We all know that the grain on a couple of farms would supply enough starchy materials for the whole output of spirits. Alcohol can be made out of any starchy material.

Mr Fowler - A much larger proportion of spirits is made out of molasses than out of malt.

Mr CONROY - I quite understand that it is a matter of molasses rather than a matter of grain. Even so, we are spending between£500,000 and£600,000 in order to have white people engaged in the production of sugar, and, it follows, to encourage the production of grog from molasses. Then, again, I feel sure that the members of the Tariff Commission have not quite seen the full force of one of their recommendations. Unfortunately, it was not pointed out to them that it is possible to distil off every ether in spirits until there remains an absolute alcohol, which could not make any one drunk.

Mr Fowler - Could it not? Does the honorable member say that absolute alcohol will not make any one drunk?

Mr CONROY - I think that, on inquiry, the honorable member will find that it is the ethers in alcohol which have the rapid effect on the brain.

Mr Glynn - Then pure alcohol must be a good teetotal drink.

Mr CONROY - I would not say that alcohol is quite a teetotal drink.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How are you to prove it ?

Mr CONROY - I have not really looked into the matter lately; I am speaking from recollection of inquiries and reading many years ago.

Mr Tudor - Tell the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that pure alcohol is not intoxicating !

Mr CONROY - I have no doubt that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, if he consumed a couple of ounces of alcohol, obtained from the chemist, would walk down the street quite sober. If, however, the honorable member were given an ounce of distilled spirit, he would tumble into the gutter. All I desire to point out is that, by repeated distillation, spirits may be brought to almost any degree of purity. When a man says that he can tell whether a spirit has been distilled from this or from that, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred he has not the faintest idea of what he is talking about. As a matter of fact, no man can tell the difference between brandy and whisky except by the amount of different flavouring matters added to the spirit. I have already adverted to the serious injury that would accrue to the community if we were to go so far as to absolutely by our legislation bring into existence a big distillery shop in Australia. We should lose that control over the liquor which we have at the present time. It would certainlypass away from the hands of the Federal Parliament into the hands of the State Parliament. This Parliament would have nothing whatever to do with it the moment it got outside the bond. ' In addition to that, the effect of this proposal brought forward at the present time should be considered. There is practically only one firm of distillers in Australia, and that is Joshua Brothers. They have 600,000 gallons of spirits, and the effect of the proposal giving the local article a prefer- ence of 4s. a gallon will be to put £120,000 into their pockets. I ask whether any one believes that this Parliament should legislate in such a way as to do that.

Sir John Forrest - Is the honorable and learned member referring to brandy or to whisky ?

Mr CONROY - All spirits.

Sir John Forrest - The difference is 3s., and not 4s.

Mr CONROY - Very well; I will accept the right honorable gentleman's correction, and, instead of £120,000, I will say roughly that the effect would be to put into the pockets of this firm a little over £100,000. That would be an uncommonly nice Christmas present for this Parliament to make to anybody. I believe that the Tariff Commission made a mistake when they suggested that for two years no spirits should go out of bond. As a matter of fact, processes are now adopted by which by repeated distillations the immaturity of the spirit and other faults can be entirely overcome. In addition to that, by forcing a certain amount of oxygen through the spirit it can be brought to the same condition as it would be in after being twenty years in butts. I was absolutely staggered when I heard the leader of the Labour Party express an opinion in favour of the proposal.

Mr Glynn - It should apply only to the pot-still spirits.

Mr CONROY - Certainly, but not to the patent-still spirits. If it were to be applied to pot-still spirits I could quite understand it.

Mr Johnson - Even with a pot still all the impurities are not got rid of.

Mr CONROY - Of course, it does not get rid of all the vegetable impurities which are not removed by distillation.

Mr Fowler - The object in distilling high-class spirits is to keep the impurities in.

Mr CONROY - Sometimes that is done to meet the case of people who pride themselves on their skill in detecting flavours, but their requirements can be met much more cheaply by the addition of essences.

Mr Fowler - The honorable member is misled by the use of the word "impure," which is used in the strictly chemical sense.

Mr CONROY - The honorable member will find that it is also used in the physiological sense, because, in many cases, these ethers produce very serious effects upon the brain. That is a matter of common knowledge. I do not intend to inter into a disquisition on such a subject j ust now, but I am sure that if the honor- able member will look into the matter he will find that, by making age the testof purity, we are relying upon the chemistry of half a century ago instead of on the chemical knowledge of to-day. Nothing struck me with greater surprise than to find From the evidence submitted to the Commission that three or four men who undoubtedly knew the facts, and who, if asked the question, would have given the information, never voluntarily supplied the membersof the Commission with the information they had. As a matter of fact, they neglected to give the information because none of them were asked questions which would have elicited it. That is why that evidence was not before the Commission.

Mr Fowler - If the honorable member says that, he has not read the evidence. Those points were brought out time and again.

Mr CONROY - The Tariff Commission acted on the evidence before them, and could not act on evidence that was not before them. I do not say it offensively, but the members of the Commission did not pretend to be chemists, and to possess expert knowledge of ethyl alcohols.

Mr Johnson - Mr. Wilkinson, the analyst, says -

So far as scientific knowledge goes, the substances removed in rectification of spirits are more injurious than alcohol itself.

Mr CONROY - I make this point : that at the present time this Parliament is asked to assent toa measure which will placein the hands of one distiller a direct profit of from , £100,000 to , £125,000. That should be done, if done at all, not by men who will escape punishment because they are going to be rejected by their constituents, but by a House just returned from the people with a mandate to carry out certain things.. There is no escape from the fact that we are being asked to make Joshua Brothers a direct present of the amount stated. I estimated the amount at £120,000, being 600,000 gallons at 4s. per gallon. I have accepted the Treasurer's correction that it should be estimated at 3s. per gallon, but I think that it might have been estimated at 4s. per gallon on the class of spirits which Joshua Brothers have. In any case, the amount would be over , £100,000, and it is a monstrous thing that such a proposal should be made. It is almost beyond the bounds of credibility that any Parliament could be. so far dead to a sense of what is due to it as to accept a measure brought forward,

* as this has been, by a Minister who runs away on the very first night on which it is before the House. I have no desire to say unkind and nasty things, but, undoubtedly, it would be very much to the interests of the one firm of distillers to have such a proposal agreed' to by this Parliament. And further, the proposal has not been considered as it should have been.

The only member of the Government who seems to be responsible for it is the Minister who has run away from the discussion to-night. We have had the Prime. Minister getting up and showing how little he knows about it. He told us that the Minister in charge of it had gone away to consider it, but we find that he has actually gone away to discover how the vote of his electors are likely to go at the next election. We are in this dangerous position : that if the honorable gentleman finds out that the votes of the electors of his constituency are likely to be against him he will not care what he does in this House, how he pledges his constituents, or 'how he brings the Ministry into disrepute and contempt. There is no doubt that they will be brought into disrepute and contempt if this proposal is carried through.

Sir John FORREST -Is the honorable and learned member referring to the Tariff

Commission or the Government?

Mr CONROY - To the Government, who are bringing the measure forward. Are not the members of the Government responsible for their own acts? Do they think so little about what they do that they put forward this proposal in a light-hearted way? If this moribund House were to accept a proposal which would encourage the creation of a big manufacturing whisky distillery, .and so on, it would not be studying the interests of the community. When we find, moreover, that it would be done at a cost of about £150,000. to be extracted from the pockets of other citizens, the proposal is seen to be still more reprehensible. When we find, further, that it would have the effect of putting between ,£100,000 and ,£120,000 into the pockets of one set of individuals, then it becomes tinged with suspicion, and we cannot but see that it is the last step which the Parliament ought to take. I cast no reflection upon the big distiller who wishes to carry on his business in that way. If the Excise duty and the import dutywere exactly the same, I would have no more objection to him than 1 would to any other citizen carrying on the business. In fact, if I had to make a choice between the two, provided that the quality was the same, I should accept the local article as against the imported article, merely because my prejudice^ - I do not say my reason - happened to run in that way. If this Parliament adopted such a proposal then, so far from blaming the particular firm to whom it had made a large grant, I should wish that I had even one-half df the money. It must be perfectly understood that we make no reflection upon the members of this firm - I do not think I have ever seen them - in their private capacity as citizens. It is only when a man comes along and says, " I am entitled to some help as against other citizens ' ' that I object. The moment he says to me, " I ought to have some privileges which are not accorded to others," I object. The moment he says, " You have a right to guarantee me the interest on my money," I say, " If that is so, other citizens have a right to get guaranteed work. If you make any profit it shall be distributed amongst the other citizens." Other citizens, if they have the power, have the right to take from him in exactly the same measure as he would take from' th'em if he had the power. I so strongly object to any one citizen or class of citizens being fostered at the expense of any other class that I oppose this proposal in toto. There is another matter, of course, to be considered, and that is, that the high duty proposed would lead to a serious loss of revenue. If that loss were to bring about a diminution of drinking, I should perhaps not abject. But when the decrease of revenue would not bring about a decrease of drinking, but would establish grog factories, of which, as his votes seem to show, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, seems to be so much in favour, it is an entirely reprehensible proposal. We ought not to be asked to depart from the principle which we established when we fixed thedifference between the import duty and theExcise dutv at such a rate that we practically said, " We shall have all the grog that is sent into consumption under our control."' Of course, we lose control of the grog immediately the duty has been paid ; but there are a hundred-and-one different: ways of getting over that difficulty. When the grog is imported, the quantity in the cask can be gauged, and the amount to be paid can be estimated. But if it were distilled here we should never be able to estimate or discover what the leakage was. Moreover, it would be the means of training scores of men in the art of distilling, and it would encourage in other ways the growth of sly-grog shops throughout Australia. Because if the industry were profitable those trained men would want to start on their own account. I trust that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports now perceives the dangerous position in which he has placed himself; that he will recognise that this is not a matter to 'jest over, and that if he really believes in those principles of temperance which he has so often advocated on the platform, he will take care by his vote not to set them aside. During the last four or five years we have had a fairly large difference between the import duty and the Excise duty - too targe a difference in my opinion - and no explanation can gloss over the fact that the proposal of the Government, if adopted, would increase the difference so greatly _ that it would practically bring into existence places for the manufacture of grog, and grog only. If its acceptance would be attended with that result, then it is a departure from previous legislation. "Under any circumstances - good or bad - the very last House to deal with a question of this sort where the direct result would be to put so much money into the hands of individuals, and to create a big grog shop is one which is in the last hours of its existence. If, in the last session of a Parliament, we were to pass such proposals we should never know where we were, and the danger would be that in every succeeding Parliament, just as happened in America, when men thought that they were not going to present themselves for re-election, or believed that they were likely to be defeated, they would vote for any measure, however dishonest it might be, which happened to be brought forward. The acceptance of the proposal before the Committee would, in, my opinion,' seriously jeopardize the standing which this Parliament has obtained in the eyes of the community. It would be impossible to explain to the people - in fact, nobody could explain why it had agreed to put £100,000 into the pockets of one firm of distillers.

Mr Mahon - That is not correct.

Mr CONROY - I assure the honorable member that if he looks at the figures he will find that 500,000 gallons of spirits-

Mr Mahon - How much of that was distilled before Federation, when the Excise duty was more?

Mr CONROY - That I cannot say.

Mr Mahon - That is very important.

Mr CONROY - It_ is not, because I am only contending that the direct effect of the acceptance of this proposal would be to give an added value of between 3s. and 4s. per gallon.

Mr Mahon - Not at all. There is a difference of is. now.

Mr CONROY - If the honorable member looks at the figures he will see that he has made a mistake, and that the proposal, if accepted, would make a difference of between 3s. and 4s. per gallon.

Sir John Forrest - Or. what?

Mr CONROY - On pretty nearly all the spirits in the distillery of -Joshua Brothers.

Sir John Forrest - It is 3s. on brandy.

Mir. CONROY.- How much brandy is there in the distillery ? Very little ! For the reason .1 have already given, I put it at £100,000; 4s. would have made it £125,000. Honorable members cannot get away from the fact that, if the Com*mittee passes the motions; which have been moved, the direct result will be a difference of £1.00,000 in the value of those spirits. I am glad to have had the opportunity to draw attention to the danger of doing anything like this. Honorable members may talk as they like, but will not the inference be drawn by sensible persons that these men were able to arrange with one or two of the managers of Parliament to have passed a measure which should not be passed? Their success will lead . to attempts at the subornation of honorable members. In my opinion, we should hesitate about passing these, proposals in the very last session of the Parliament, and, no doubt, only shortly before the political end of several of us. The Minister who brought them forward does not dare to defend them. He has run away from them, unable to meet the charges which have been levelled against him. The members of the Labour Party are in a very peculiar position. The more they examine these proposals the more reason must they find for suspicion. But, while they may attempt to justify them to their constituents, I shall not do likewise, because I do not believe that they are founded on justice, or that they will lead to the sobriety of the people.

Mr Poynton - How does the honorable and learned member's boss stand in regard to this question?

Mr CONROY - I speak entirely for myself. No one, I presume, would attempt to exercise control over me in regard to this matter. Whatever my opinions may be, I am free to utter them. I can speak as I think. I am not a member of a caucus, to be forced to vote one way, although I think another.

Suggest corrections