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Thursday, 17 June 1915

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria/) (Assistant Minister) . - I have no objection to do that. The Bill is not one in which any great principle is at stake. It is purely and' simply a- departmental measure. There was a desire, when granting protection to Australian whisky, to secure an absolutely pure article. That is a very laudable intention, no doubt, but I want to draw attention to the fact that, in the desire to establish the distilling industry in Australia for the production of pure whisky, the standard was so set as to be almost impossible of attainment. The distillers have not been successful in extracting, perhaps, the principal ingredient, fusel oil, with the result that, the standard being so high, there is a prejudice against Australian whisky. "Senator BAKHAP. - Is it not correct that the Australian whisky distillers - I do not know if there are many of them - have made representations against this Bill ?

Senator RUSSELL - No.

Senator Bakhap - Some representations reached me in the form of a circular.

Senator RUSSELL - They were favorable to the measure.

Senator Bakhap - Is the Assistant Minister quite sure?

Senator RUSSELL - I am sure of it. Might I point out that when the Tariff Commission recommended that " thirtyfive per cent, overproof " be established as the regulation quality, the desire was undoubtedly to produce a good whisky, but it has been found that, despite the fact that the whisky was held in bulk for two years - which is considered the world over as a reasonable time to mature - it was still full of fusel oil, which made it, if not unsaleable, an unpalatable 'article. This has led to Australian whisky being seldom sold as such. It is sold in large quantities, but is blended with other whiskies. I do not hold any brief for the whisky industry - far from it - but I say that if our people are to consume whisky, they might as well consume Australian whisky, provided it is not in any way inferior to imported whiskies. I have one or two quotations to make to show that a mistake was made here in fixing the standard for Australian whisky at 35 per cent, overproof. In a paper upon " The Establishment of Standards for Whisky in Western Australia," I find the following: -

The restriction of the strength at which whisky may be distilled to 35 deg. O.P. would entirely eliminate some of the finest Irish pot still whisky, and certainly also some of the grain or patent still whiskies. While the Royals Commission (final report of the Royal Commission on whisky and other potable" spirits, 1000, page 8) came to the conclusion that the materials from which whisky might be made should be restricted to malted and unlimited grain, they refused (page 21) to place any restrictions on the processes by which whisky might be produced. In my opinion the proposed restriction of the distilling strength to 35 O.P. is entirely arbitrary and without justification.

The Tariff Commission appointed by this Parliament, and consisting of members of both political parties, set out with the desire to establish a very high standard for Australian whisky.

Senator Turley - It was on their report that the existing Act was based.

Senator RUSSELL - That is so; but even when that report was presented there was considerable difference of opinion amongst manufacturers in Australia as to the percentage overproof to which it was possible to go and still produce a marketable article. In a report from the InterState Commission I find the statement -

Messrs. Henry Brind and Company, distillersof Ballarat, ask that the maximum strength of distillation be increased from 35 per cent, to 45 or 48 per cent. The Commission does not consider it advisable that the request should be granted.

This shows that certain manufacturers believe that the maximum strength of distillation should be increased beyond the standard now fixed. In the " Final Report of the Royal Commission on> Whisky and other Potable Spirits" presented to the Imperial Parliament, I find a reference to the matter in connexion? with the distillation of whisky in Scotland..

Senator Barker - That is whisky !

Senator RUSSELL - Without admitting too great a familiarity with thewhisky . trade, I may be allowed to saythat Scotchmen are usually considered good judges of what a .real whisky is..

The Commissioners, in their report to the Imperial Parliament, say: -

In some distilleries in Scotland the whisky is produced from three distillations; this practice is very general in the Lowlands; the spirit is then run at 40 to 45 degrees O.F.

The Commissioners further report: -

Again, apart from the fact that pot stills differ so much that a comprehensive legal definition would be difficult to frame without either excluding certain types of still which are now commonly recognised as pot stills, or including other types which are not now looked upon as legitimate variations of the pot still, there are strong 'objections to hampering the development of an industry by stereotyping particular forms of apparatus.

That is to say that the pot still is no more essential to the production of a good whisky than it is that a suit of clothes should be made by hand rather than by a machine. Drinkers of whisky insisted upon distillation in a pot still because, with long use, that became popular; but there is no more reason why the tools of trade of the whisky industry should be restricted than the tools of trade of the engineering or any other industry. The Commissioners further reported -

Finally, we have received no evidence to show that the form of still has any necessary relation to the wholesomeness of the spirit produced.

Senator Bakhap - What is the data of the report?

Senator RUSSELL - It was presented to the Imperial Parliament in 1909, and is signed, I say rather regretfully, by the late Mr. H. J. Gladstone. We. can all sympathize with the desire that whisky produced in Australia should be pure and of good quality; but those who fixed the standard at 35 O.P. rather overstepped the mark, with the result that the industry cannot be established so long as the existing standard is maintained. No standards are fixed for whisky produced in England, Scotland, or Ireland. We can protect Australian whisky consumers, because we have power under the Pure Foods Act and the Excise Act to insure compliance with a standard of purity before whisky manufactured here is sold to the public. I trust that honorable senators will permit the measure to go through. It has already been passed by the House of Representatives, and will really form a part of the Excise Tariff. When all is said and done, it deals with a purely technical matter, and is approved of by the experts of the Customs

Department and by the local manufacturers of whisky.

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