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Tuesday, 20 October 1931

Mr NAIRN (Perth) .- This item provides that whisky bottled under customs or excise supervision shall be subject to an excise duty of 28s. a gallon; but if not bottled under customs or excise supervision, the duty shall be 33s. a gallon. I move -

That the sub-item be further amended by adding the following: - "And on and after the 21st October, 1931-

(d)   Whisky, distilled wholly from barley mult by a pot-still or similar process at a. strength not exceeding45 per cent. over proof, matured by storage in wood for a period of not less than three years, and certified by an officer to be pure malt whisky - per proof gallon, 28s."

This committee has already struck out the extra duty of5s. in respect of brandy, and it would be at least consistent if we adopted the same course in respect to whisky and other spirits effected.

Mr Forde - That course was adopted in respect to brandy in order to put Australian brandy on the same footing as the imported article.

Mr NAIRN - When the committee was discussing brandy some time ago the proposal to remove this extra duty of 5s. was carried with the help of eight members from the Government side of the House. Brandy was the first item to be discussed, but after that, the party whip seems to have been cracked, with the result that, when the next item came up, only three of those eight members who supported the reduction of the duty on brandy were found to support the same reduction as it applied to whisky. Mixed up with these matters are the interests of rival trade concerns, but this should not influence the committee. We should consider only whether the duty is justified or not. The amalgamated whisky companies have their own bond stores, and market their own well-known proprietary lines, so that it is to their interest to maintain the extra duty of5s. Besides them, however, there are many smaller importers who bring in whisky not so well known, but nevertheless of excellent quality, and sell it for less than the proprietary lines. They have not their own bond stores, with the result that they have to pay this extra 5s., a duty which serves no useful purpose at all. The only substantial defence offered for it by the Minister when this matter was last before the committee was that the customs supervision of bottling operations in bond provided some guarantee of the quality of the liquor, but this claim, when examined, cannot be justified. It was asserted that this provision was a check on illicit, distilleries, but a man who risks a penalty in conducting an illicit still will not hesitate to put up his product in the bottles used by the well-known whisky distributors. As a matter of fact, the certificate of the Customs Department is no guarantee whatever of the contents of a bottle. Makers of illicit spirit must be dealt with, if at all, by the excise staff. Many hotelkeepers do a service to the public by importing their own whisky, bottling, and retailing it. All imported whisky may be relied upon as good, because no one would he foolish enough to import bad whisky on which a duty of 28s. a gallon has to be paid. The duty represents by far the greater part of the price of whisky. In my opinion, there is no ground whatever for retaining this discriminatory duty of 5s.

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