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Tuesday, 16 October 1984
Page: 1777

Senator LEWIS(6.23) —The Senate is debating three tariff Bills-the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1984, the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill (No . 2) 1984 and the Customs Tariff (Coal Export Duty) Amendment Bill 1984. The first matter I wish to raise concerns the excise on beer. This legislation claims to vary the excise rate according to the alcohol strength of beer, but in fact it divides beer into three categories and imposes an excise rate in relation to each of those categories. The first category is beer with an alcohol content in excess of 3.8 per cent by volume on which the excise is 66c per litre . The second category is beers ranging from 1.15 per cent but not over 3.8 per cent by volume on which the excise is 58c per litre-in other words, 8c less than the higher content beer. The final category is beers of 1.15 per cent or less, which are free of excise. Let me say right at the outset that I congratulate the Government on introducing a low alcohol beer free of excise. As I understand it, though, there is only one beer in that category at the present moment in Australia, and that is Swan Special Light with an alcohol content of 0.9 per cent. Having thrown a rose at the Government, let me now throw a brickbat. What the Government has done is impose a sales tax of some 20 per cent on that beer. By treating the beer as a soft drink it has imposed a sales tax of some 20 per cent and has taken away the advantage it gave to that beer and so has destroyed, in effect, the good work it had already put in.

Let me say also that it is clear that the beer drinker in Australia is outrageously heavily taxed and that, to me, has always seemed grossly unfair. It is almost as if governments in this country wish people to start drinking solid spirits-brandies and whiskeys-rather than beer. I am sure that such a practice is not good for younger people; I suppose we cannot do much about the older people nowadays. If the Government is serious in its concern about alcohol abuse , in terms of equity may I suggest to the Minister for Industry and Commerce ( Senator Button) that some consideration be given to adopting a sliding scale based on alcohol content. For example, in the higher bracket Coopers has an alcohol content of 5.5 per cent, Swan Lager 5 per cent, Fosters Export 4.9 per cent, Carlton Draught 4.9 per cent, KB 4.7 per cent and Tooheys Draught 4.6 per cent. The middle bracket includes Carlton Light, which has an alcohol content of 3.3 per cent, LA 2.7 per cent and Tooheys 2.2 per cent. If there were a sliding scale rather than three categories manufacturers could probably be persuaded to get the alcohol content down even further. I think that that would be good for the people who like to have a beer. I suggest that the Government ought to give some consideration to that. I acknowledge that the Government will say that there will be administrative difficulties, but I do not think there would be any more administrative difficulties in having a range or five of six scales rather than only three.

In the few minutes remaining before the suspension of the sitting I would like to turn quickly to the substantive changes to the tariff, which include a reduction in developing country preference margins for fireworks from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. I recently had occasion to make representations to the Minister for Industry and Commerce in regard to a Bendigo company involved in the production of ceramics.

Senator Button —Electric jugs.

Senator LEWIS —Electric jugs, the Minister points out. I do not think there would be any problem in mentioning the name of the company. The very well known firm of Cooper and Cooke (Ceramics) Pty Ltd of Bendigo has the most modern and innovative ceramics factory in Australia and maybe in the world. The firm is in trouble in regard to one of its products because of competition from mainland communist China. The company was concerned that it was being subjected to dumping or subsidised competition. When it made inquiries of the Australian Trade Commissioner in Peking it was advised that the Government of communist China was adamant that China did not produce ceramic jugs. The Chinese Government had no record of it; it was not able to give any indication of the cost of manufacture. Of course, the Bendigo company knows who the manufacturer is. It is a firm called Liling Porcelain Arts and Craft Pottery in the province of Liling. however, as I said, the Government of the People's Republic of China does not know anything about it.

I raise this matter because I am interested to know whether the Industries Assistance Commission has encountered similar difficulties in dealing with the communist Chinese Government when ascertaining the cost of manufacture of goods such as the fireworks which are mentioned in this legislation. It seems there are communications problems with communist China. Until the matter is resolved satisfactorily it appears necessary for the Government to provide some machinery so that Australian companies can be given temporary assistance or protection from such imports or some other assistance until such time as the Government of China is able to satisfy Australian requirements and establish beyond any doubt that Chinese companies are not dumping goods in Australia to the detriment of Australian manufacturers. The Opposition is not opposing these Bills. However, I think that the Government needs to apply its mind very seriously to the matters raised by Opposition speakers in regard to the legislation.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.