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Wednesday, 15 August 1906

Mr HENRY WILLIS (Robertson) ; - I listened with interest to the remark's of the Prime Minister, and I gathered that his object in opposing the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Bendigo was to encourage the local production of spirits. He admitted that, under the Government proposal, there would be a falling off in the quantity of spirits imported, but he urged that there would be a larger production of locallydistilled spirits. I am given to understand by those who are engaged in the business that Australia is well catered for, so far as the quality of the spirits which are imported is concerned. I gathered from the Prime Minister's remarks that he favours placing upon the Australian market a locally-produced article, in preference to the pure spirit which is imported. When I was at Kilmarnock I was informed that Walker's firm was not in the habit of sending to Australia whisky which was under' ten years of age. In Ireland I was the recipient of similar information respecting Robertson's whisky. These facts go to show that we are well catered for in the matter of high-class whiskies. It seems to me that the Prime Minister's desire is to keep these whiskies out of our market. By so doing, he maintains that we shall obtain more revenue from the raw, immature spirit which will be produced locally, and the consumption of which will be likely to increase.

Mr Deakin - The honorable member has not read the Tariff Commission's report.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I am quoting the observations of the Prime Minister.

Mr Deakin - The honorable member is not. Every recommendation of the Tariff Commission requires that spirits, whether imported or locally distilled, shall be matured in wood 'for two years.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - How does such a recommendation compare with whiskies which have been matured for ten years ?

Mr Deakin - It is only a few minutes ago that I was handed a telegram in which the importers protest against the recommendation of the Tariff Commission being adopted, upon the ground that it would be impossible to comply with it-

Mr Hutchison - I doubt whether there is very much whisky consumed in Australia which has been matured for ten years. .

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Undoubtedly there is a large importation of inferior spirits, in addition to the well matured whisky I have referred to, as can be readily understood from a perusal of the different prices which are charged for them. When in Western Australia a short time ago, I was struck with the ..number of fresh brands of whisky which are upon the market there. Upon making inquiries I found that it was impossible to introduce into that State a whisky which was not well matured, and which would not compare favorably with the .productions of such well established firms as Walker and Robertson.

Mr Hutchison - The inspector of Excise in Western Australia says that amongst all the samples which he has examined he has scarcely found a pure article.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - It is quite beyond the province of the honorable member to say that. Of course, I recognise that there is a very large quantity of inferior spirit imported into the Commonwealth for various purposes. One has only to take the catalogue of a wine and -spirit merchant to note the marked difference between the prices of various brands. If a merchant were asked, the question he would probably tell his customer that he could g'.t ." Bulloch Lade" whisky for half the price which is charged for Walker's " Red Collar " brand. It is perfectly true that prior to the enactment of the Federal Tariff, very good whisky could be purchased in Victoria. But as soon as InterState free-trade was established, one large firm here practically closed its works, and imported from New South Wales a cheap spirit made from molasses - a spirit to which it previously had no access. That is the spirit which is upon the market at the present time, and which the Government apparently wish to bring into general consumption. On behalf of the drinkers of whisky, .1 urge that we should insist upon the public being supplied with a pure article which has been matured by age in wood. I have seen experiments conducted with all kinds of spirituous liquors. When I was a young fellow, it was quite a com;mon thing for experiments to be undertaken with highly rectified spirit ; and I recollect that it was possible to convert that spirit :into almost any liquor that one desired. This result was accomplished by a process of flavouring and colouring.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It was done with spirit taken out of the same bottle?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Practically. The spirit was taken out of the same bottle, colouring and flavouring properties were added, and thus one was enabled to produce almost any liquor desired.

Mr Maloney - These things, like margarine in butter, need an expert to detect their presence.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - That is so, but an expert can at once detect the difference between whisky made from highly-distilled molasses spirit, and that made from malt. If the honorable member has been through the gap of Dunoe, and has had an opportunity to taste the whisky illicitly distilled there and supplied to travellers-

Mr Fowler - And distilled at a low alcoholic strength, which is characteristic of all those distillations.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - It is a very fiery liquor. One dose of it is sufficient to lay one up. I believe that illicit distillation is being very largely carried on in all parts of Australia. Spirit so produced is mixed with the best imported spirits, and the agents for the latter have travellers constantly visiting hotels and making tests for the purpose of detecting any such adulteration. This adulteration of imported whisky with inferior Australian whisky is largely practised. The Prime Minister, in opposing the proposal of ti the Chairman of the Commission, is actuated by a desire to discourage the consumption of the imported' article, and to secure an increase in the consumption of that made locally, which is chiefly the product of Joshua Brothers' distillery. Joshua Brothers openly assert thai they use a cheap Australian spirit in the manufacture, not only of whisky, but of brandy, and that they desire to discourage the consumption of pure brandy made exclusively, as in South Australia, from grape spirit. Twenty years ago, when Australian grape brandy was placed on the market, it was generally recommended by the medical profession as suitable for fever patients. As a pure brandy, it was preferable to imported brandies, since it contained the ethers so necessary to bring about a reduction of temperature with the least possibility of danger to the patient to whom it was administered. The tendency of the Government proposal is rather to encourage the consumption of inferior spirits to the disadvantage of some of the high-class whisky and brandy - which is chiefly importer! - sold in the Australian market. That being so, I feel it my duty, in the interests of a pure liquor supply for the people, to support' .the amendment moved by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo.

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