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Wednesday, 15 August 1906

Mr WATSON (Bland) -- I would have preferred that the debate upon this question should have been postponed until the particular item was reached. But even in the light of the remarks of the honorable and learned member for Bendigo I cannot understand why it is proposed to extend so great a preference to the production of blended brandy as against that of pure grape brandy. It seems to me that in view of the comparatively low price at which the former article can be placed upon the market it is ridiculous to suggest such high preferential treatment in connexion with our Excise duties. Hitherto blended brandy has enjoyed a preference of is. per gallon, as against pure grape brandy, but under the recommendations of the Commission that preference will be trebled. I do not see the necessity for that. Rum or sugar spirit is one of the cheapest spirits which can be produced in Australia. It is so cheap that the Tariff Commission itself has recommended that the Excise should be withdrawn from methylated spirit. It points to the immense quantity of molasses which are going to waste in Australia, and which can be converted into spirit with sufficient economy to allow it to compete against the use of petrol " for industrial purposes. I quite agree with that suggestion. To my mind, it is rather a reflection upon our intelligence that we did not foresee the possibilities of its use in that direction five years ago.

Mr Glynn - They were only recognised in America on the 25th May last.

Mr WATSON - Then there is some excuse for our inaction. I think that everybody will agree that the suggestion of the Tariff Commission in this particular connexion is a very wise one indeed. But the very fact that that body points to molasses being used for methylating purposes indicates that for the purpose of blending with grape wine spirit the spirit could be produced equally cheaply. Consequently it does not require the amount of protection that it is proposed to extend to .it. I do not for a moment suggest that molasses spirit is not wholesome, but I do contend that it is not right to give to it a greater measure of protection than the circumstances of the case demand, or to allow if to be sold as "blended brandy " in the local market. To my mind, the term is a misnomer. It should be called blended rum, instead of blended brandy.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What is the good of providing for 25 per cent, of pure grape spirit in any article?

Mr WATSON - I cannot say. The presence of that quantity of pure grape spirit in an article may have the effect of imparting a certain flavour to it.

Sir John Quick - It may be its foundation.

Mr WATSON - It may be a foundation, but it is rather too flimsy a foundation upon which to erect a superstructure which is worth anything. I think that the proposal of the Government has much to commend it to the common sense of honorable members. To extend to this class of spirit twice as much protection as it previously enjoyed is fairly liberal treatment, and I am prepared to go so far. But if we allow the Excise upon this so-called blended brandy to approach within is. per gallon of that which is levied upon pure grape brandy the distillers of the latter article will be placed at a great disadvantage in fighting the former upon the Australian market. In other words, we shall discourage the use of grape spirit, and I do not know whether honorable members can contemplate that state of affairs with equanimity. I admit that the honorable member for Moira has suggested that to overcome the difficulty we might reduce the Excise upon pure grape brandy, so as to allow it a preference of 5s. per gallon as against the imported article. But I am of opinion that by levying these comparatively low Excise duties, and by retaining the import duty at 14s. per gallon, we shall commit ourselves to a sufficiently heavy loss of revenue.

Mr Page - How does the loss of revenue come in ?

Mr WATSON - The loss will be consequent upon the larger consumption of spirits which are locally produced, and upon which a lower rate of duty will be collected. I intend to support the Government proposal.

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