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Thursday, 28 July 1921

Senator DUNCAN (New) (South Wales) . - I desire to approach this question from the stand-point of the consumer. The proposal now before the Committee is to increase the duty by approximately 40 per cent. The manufacturers of cigarettes in Australia have, f or some years, had very effective protection; indeed, it has been so effective that I desire to call the attention of honorable senators to the actions of the huge monopoly that has been controlling this particular branch of the tobacco trade fora number of years. A few years ago, when there was some competition, and before the duties were increased, it was possible to buy cigarettes of good quality for about half what is charged to-day. Not only has the price been increased, but the Tobacco Combine, which has been given a monopoly, was able to exercise its own sweet will' upon consumers to such an extent that it not only increased the price, but decreased the number of cigarettes in the packets. What is even worse than that, the quantity of tobacco in the cigarettes was reduced to such an extent that they bent in the middle - theyhad not the courage to stand up ! It appears to me that the manufacturers of cigarettes in Australia have not only had a very good time under the old Tariff ; but they are able, even now, to do just as they please, because of the absence of outside competition. They- are treating consumers in a way that is grossly unjust, and that aspect of the matter should not be overlooked. Instead of increasing the duty, I think it. is time we began to consider whether we should notdecrease it, and compel this monopoly to face some competition which, would be the means of it. producing a better article. The-tobacco that is being used is fairly satisfactory.

Senator Wilson - That is. hardly consistent with the argument that the- duties on all luxuries should be higher. Is- not a cigarette a luxury?

Senator DUNCAN - Perhaps it. is ;but my attitude is not inconsistent with the opinion of honorable . senators. I hope the attitude that has been adapted will continue, because it is our duty, as far as possible, to protect, not only the manufacturer, but the consumer. This is an instance in which the consumer is not getting a fair deal from a huge organization,., which, without the suggested increase, has been able to accumulate enormous profits and place large sums to its reserve funds. It has been able to do that even under the old rates. No case has been made out for increased protection for this industry.

Senator Reid - It is a splendid subject to refer to the Tariff Board.

Senator DUNCAN - The interests of the consumers are being overridden to such an enormous- extent by the Australian manufacturers of cigarettes that I hope this will be one of the first matters referred to the Board by the Minister for investigation and reform.

Senator Wilson - Senator Lynch has told us that cigarettes are injurious, and proposes to help the consumers by not allowing them to get cigarettes excepting at a very high price.

Senator DUNCAN - Senator Lynch may be right; but from the stand-point of practical politics his proposition cannot be considered seriously. The menace of which he spoke cannot be removed by increasing the duty, even to the slight extent he suggests. If ' a boy cannot get cigarettes he will smoke something else. It would be more practical for us to see that the cigarettes he smokes contains pure tobacco, and that he gets decent value for his money, which to-day he is not getting from the Combine controlling the manufacture in Australia. In any case, it is for the State Parliament to prohibit the sale of cigarettes to boys. I know that it would be farcical for me to attempt to reduce the duty by 50 per cent., because I would have no hope of getting such a proposal carried ; but I hope that the Government will consider the advisability of remitting this question to the Tariff Board for the fullest inquiry and report, so that Parliament will know what to do in the matter when it has the full facts placed before it. No doubt, the Government, have good reasons for increasing the duty upon cigarettes, but I think it should be substantially reduced.

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