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Friday, 11 June 1926

Senator GRANT (New South Wales) . - Although I can support this bill, to my mind it does not go far enough. I quite agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) that white spirit should be supplied to the universities free of what I term a hateful impost known as excise duty, but, in committee, I shall submit requests which will have the effect of completely removing the excise duty on all Australian whisky made from malt, or from malt and other grain. As, I presume, I shall, in committee, have the opportunity of speaking at some length on both those proposals, and of laying before honorable members the necessity for giving really tangible encouragement to Australian industries, I do not propose to do so at this stage. But I should like to say now that there is something radically wrong when a Parliament deliberately sets out to penalize a local industry. I am not likely to become eloquent or enthusiastic over a protective policy, but I can become eloquent and enthusiastic when it is a -question of giving really genuine protection to Australian industries. There are four distilleries in Australia, which, although they are said to be under one combine, are manufacturing whisky, and while their output is somewhat different from Scotch or other imported whisky, it is, I understand, a pure malt spirit which will improve with age. .But it seems to me that it is a backhander to the distilling industry for the Government to go out of its way to impose an excise duty of 26s. a gallon upon pure malt spirit, or 28s. a gallon upon blended whisky. It will be said, of course, that the removal of the excise duty on whisky would interfere with the revenue to some extent, but, quite recently, and on other occasions, the Government has told us that its main object is to encourage Australian industries. I do not like the word " encouragement " very much in this connexion. I think that if the industries were left severely alone, they would do better than they are likely to do if we penalize them by the imposition of excise duties. For instance, we have fairly well established in * the Commonwealth the industry of manufacturing tobacco, yet on every pound of tobacco manufactured, there is a heavy excise duty. At this stage, I do not propose to ask for any reduction, or for the abolition of the excise duty on tobacco, although I should like to do so, but 1 seriously suggest that the time is opportune for considering the removal of the excise duty on whisky. It may be quite true that, for a limited time, the local distilleries would not be in a position to supply sufficient quantities to satisfy the demand of the Australian people for whisky; but there is no doubt that if, as the result of the removal of the excise duties, Australian whisky could be sold at about 2s. 6d. a pint bottle, it would give an immense fillip to the industry. Scotch whisky cannot be bought at anything like that price, because, thanks to honorable senators like Senator Lynch, it is loaded with an import duty of 35s. a gallon. If the excise duty on Australian whisky were removed, it would be just as profitable for the local distilleries to dispose of a bottle of whisky at the price of 2s., 6d., or a maximum of 3s., as it is for them to-day to dispose of a bottle of whisky at 7s. 6d., or slightly more.

Senator Thompson - Does the honorable senator wish to increase the inducements to drunkenness?

Senator GRANT - I do not. It is a great slander, especially on the wealthy people of this country, to suggest that if whisky were made cheap, and its quality improved, drunkenness would increase. Senator Thompson must be well aware that there are thousands of persons in Australia whose cellars are well stocked with ales, wines, and spirits, but who partake of those necessary beverages in moderation. It is only when men are deprived of the right to obtain alcoholic liquor that they make an unholy rush f or it, and sometimes consume more than they can conveniently carry. I resent the suggestion that drunkenness would increase if whisky or any other spirit were made available at a more reasonable price. When the measure is in committee I intend to move that sub-items d and e be omitted. That will give the real protectionists in this chamber an opportunity to provide the distillers in Australia with genuine protection, and lead the way to the abolition of the excise duties on tobacco and other commodities manufactured in the Commonwealth. Briefly, sub-item d imposes an excise duty on whisky wholly distilled from barley, and sub-item e an excise duty on. blended whisky distilled partly from barley and partly from other grains. I cannot imagine anything more absurd, mischievous or destructive to an Australian industry than to place a heavy excise duty on every gallon of spirit produced. During the debates on the Customs Tariff Bill it was frequently stated that protective duties were imposed to prevent the importation of foreign goods, and so to give greater advantage to the locallymanufactured commodities. The spirit industry is protected by heavy Customs duties, but I desire to go a step further and to entirely remove all obstacles in the way of producing whisky, at a reasonable price, either from barley or from barley and other grains.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.

The Schedule.

2.   By omitting the whole of sub-item (p) and inserting in its stead the following subitum: - " (p) Absolute Alcohol and White Spirit for use in universities for scientific purposes, subject to Regulations. Rate of duty- Free."

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