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Friday, 18 November 1927

Senator CRAWFORD (QueenslandHonorary Minister) (Honorary Minister) . - After the debate that has taken place this morning honorable senators will agree that the old saying, " Empty vessels make the most sound," is one worthy of all acceptation." The discussion has been based upon the charging of a duty on returned empty Australian-made casks that are used in the export of wine. Senator Barwell confined his attention to the duty charged upon a few casks. One would have thought that a very large sum was at stake; but the fact is that only £14 17s. is involved-

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - I gave that as. only one instance of what is the general practice.

Senator CRAWFORD - This is the only complaint that has reached the Department of Trade and Customs.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - I am complaining on behalf of the whole industry.

Senator CRAWFORD - I" may say that this particular charge is still under consideration, because some doubt exists as to whether the officers of the department in South Australia did not charge duty on a value greater than should have been- assessed. Senator Chapman dealt with the wine industry generally. Any one who was unacquainted with the position could not fail to gather from his remarks the impression that the wine industry had not been justly dealt with by this and other Governments. I may, therefore, very profitably devote a minute or two to the consideration of what has been done under the tariff and our bounty acts to help the wine industry. The duty on still wine in bulk is 12s. 6d. a gallon British, 12s. 6d. a gallon intermediate, and 14s. a gallon general. In bottle, it is 15s., 15s., and 18s., respectively. The biggest part of the sweet, wine exported was sold until recently at from ls. to ls. 6d. a gallon, f.o.b. If similar wine were imported in bulk, it would have to pay a duty of 14s. a gallon. It is clear, therefore, that the protection which is afforded to the wine industry under the tariff amounts to several hundred per cent.

Senator Chapmanalso said that the amount which was collected by way of excise duty on the spirit that is used in fortifying wine, exceeds the amount that is received by the industry by way of bounty. Almost every government in the world holds the view that the consumers of alcoholic beverages should contribute by way of excise and customs duties to the revenue of the country. Australia imposes an excise duty on not only the spirit that is used in fortifying Australian wine, but also on beer, as well as whisky, brandy, gin and any other spirit that may be manufactured in this country. The excise duty on beer is ls. 9d. a gallon. Beer contains from 6 per cent, to S per cent, of alcohol. The alcohol in our fortified wine averages about 34 per cent. and. the excise on the fortifying spirit in a gallon of this wine amounts to ls. 3d. Two and a half gallons of that wine contain as large a quantity of alcohol as one gallon of proof spirit, upon which is charged an excise duty of 30s. a gallon. Therefore, I think it will be admitted that wine Ls treated very liberally in comparison with beer and spirits.

Senator Needham - Is the question before the Senate the duty on returned casks or wine?

Senator CRAWFORD - I am dealing with the wine industry generally, because the speeches that have so far been delivered have gone far beyond the limits of the question that was raised by Senator Barwell.

The PRESIDENT - I ask the Minister to confine himself to the motion.

Senator CRAWFORD - In passing from the general to the specific question I merely wish to say that the .bounty paid on the wine exported last year amounted to £442,000, and that this year it will probably be about £500,000. Senator Barwell read correspondence that he had received from the Minister for Trade a.nd Customs (Mr. Pratten), setting out the law relating to this matter. It is necessary for us to take into account relative industries. It will be admitted, I think, that coopering, equally with the growing of grapes, is a relative industry. The industry has been fostered in the interest of the growers of grapes and only very slightly in the interest of importers. Senator Barwell and Senator Chapman both failed to show that what has been done by the Department of Trade and Customs lias affected adversely the interests of those who are engaged in the production of the grapes from which the wine is made. In arriving at the amount of bounty that was desirable, consideration was given to the cost of the casks - not those which could be used a number . of times, but new Australian casks. Senator Barwell and Senator Chapman must know that the whole of this trouble has arisen out of the strenuous efforts that have been made by wine exporters to get their wine out of the country before the end of August in order that they might benefit from the bounty of 4s. a gallon, and in addition, obtain the very material advantages thai accrue from the increased preference which is being given by the Imperial Government. The law on the matter is plain. The Minister for Trade and Customs must be satisfied that the bringing back to Australia of any goods will not unfairly disturb the market for similar goods in Australia generally or in the place where it is proposed that they shall be landed. That is not a new regulation; it has been operative for a number, of years. It has been, strongly represented that the importation of these casks in such large numbers is an interference with the coopering industry, which is one of considerable extent. We have in Australia cooperages that are capable of turning out several thousand casks a month, the majority of which are made from imported timbers.

Senator Sampson - A duty is paid on that timber.

Senator CRAWFORD - A comparatively low duty of ls. a hundred staves undressed and 4s. a hundred when partly dressed. The wine exporters claim that casks that are made of Australian timber are not suitable. I cannot conceive of a.ny reason for declining to protect the coopering industry. No rubber is grown in Australia, yet the manufacture of rubber goods of various descriptions is protected, and a very important industry has been built up.

Senator Chapman - That is done by forcing upon Australia uneconomic methods of marketing.

Senator CRAWFORD - The wine industry has never been in a more prosperous condition than that in which it finds itself to-day. The British preference was doubled only a few months ago. Considering all the circumstances, but especially those for which this Government is responsible, and for which it must be admitted that the Minister for Trade and Customs should receive some credit, the wine industry, far from being hardly dealt with, is most generously treated.

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