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Tuesday, 14 August 1906

Mr DEAKIN (Ballarat) (Minister of External Affairs) . - I am unable to find a reason for the honorable and learned member's impassioned words. The Minister of Trade and Customs said that he had obtained in South Australia and elsewhere information leading him to doubt whether sufficient protection is being afforded to the manufacture of pure wine brandy. But that is a subject for future consideration. Before we can deal with it, we must dispose of the motion now before the Chair, in which it is not involved, though honorable members have the undoubted right to criticise the whole of the proposals at this stage. The Government do not desire to prolong such general criticism. They would prefer the Committee to come at once to close quarters with the motion submitted. I do not think any honorable members could take exception to the fullness with which the 'Chairman of the Tariff Commission supported such of its recommendations as have been questioned by my honorable colleague.

Mr Fuller - Was it fair to require him to do so at this stage ?

Mr DEAKIN - I do not know that it was necessary for him to do it at this stage. I understood my honorable colleague to intimate that, while the present motion was being dealt with, he would give consideration to representations for the amendment of a later proposal which hadbeen strongly urged upon him in South Australia. It is true, as the honorable and learned member for Bendigo has said, that there is a South Australian view of the subject as distinguished from the New South Wales or the Victorian view, but the report of the Tariff Commission shows that the view of the vignerons of South Australia was indorsed by every prominent and influential vigneron in the other States.

Mr Kennedy - The vignerons of Australia are agreed on the subject.

Mr DEAKIN - It is practically a vignerons' representation. I am sorry that the honorable and learned member for Bendigo took exception to the introductory remarks of the Minister of Trade and Customs. I heard no disparaging reference to the work of the Commission.

Six John Quick. - The Minister's re marks sounded like a disparaging reference. He adopted a sneering tone, and, indeed, has always been an enemy of the Commission.

Mr DEAKIN - One has only to read the report to see how exhaustive an examination was made by the Commission, while the honorable and learned Chairman showed that he carries in his head, or has before him, all the information requisite for the detailed consideration of any proposition affecting this matter. I understood my honorable colleague to refer to comparatively minor alterations, which I do not wish to discuss now in anticipation, thus unnecessarily prolonging the debate. They cannot be dealt with until we have finished with the proposals for Customs duties, and have come to the proposals for Excise duties. The honorable and learned member, in quoting from a speech which I made at Footscray, brought together two parts of it in such a way as to alter the meaning of the second part. It is quite true that at FootscrayI said that this report, having been indorsedby both sections of the Commission, should be disposed of in a very short time - I hoped, in a single night. At that time, however, the consequences to the revenue had not been presented to us, asthey were afterwards, by the officers of both the Customs and the Treasury Departments. In response to their representations, the Government, whilst adopting in principlethewhole of the scheme of the Commission, with very great reluctance altered some of the duties. We sought, in the light of the best information available to us, to maintain the revenue at about its present level. At a later stage of my speech I spoke of those cases in which the membersof the Commission might be divided, and expressed the hope that no onewould raise thetheoretical question of freetrade versus protection - a mere abstract question for argument between those of opposite fiscal faiths. The exact words I used" were -

We want to put theoretical and doctrinaire considerations aside. In the last hours of thisParliament our business is to do business. The Tariff Commission has prepared the way. It has asked tens , of thousands of questions ; it hasexamined hundreds of people ; it has made thetour of Australia. Parliament will give its recommendations all the weight they deservein theknowledge of those facts, but Parliament is not there to re-discuss the questions of theTarriff Commission, and certainly not to invite the Tariff Commission to re-discuss them on the floor of the House.

Sir John Quick - That was the passage to whichI objected. .

Mr DEAKIN - That statement doesnot appear to me to cast any reflection upon the Tariff Commission. I said in effect that Parliament was not here to dis cuss abstract questions, nor to ask the twosections of the Tariff Commission to do so. All that we were justified in doing: was to ask the members of the Commission to give us the benefit of their practical experience. The honorable and learned member, therefore, has interpreted' my statement in a manner that it was never intended to bear.

Sir John Quick - I accept the Prime Minister's explanation.

Mr DEAKIN - I was quite sure that the matter would only need to be mentioned in order to show the honorable and learned member that he was mistaken.

Sir John Quick - When a Minister sneers at the report of the Commission it is necessary for some one to say a word in support of it.

Mr DEAKIN - I do not think that my honorable colleague did sneer at the report of the Commission. I commencedby saying that what the honorable and learned Chairman stated was apt and pertinent. It is true that the Minister of Trade and

Customs challenged the report of the Commission in respect to paragraphs 2 and 4 relating to the Excise duties proposed to be levied upon blended brandy and blended whisky respectively. All that he indicated was that he was rather shaken in the adherence he had given to the conclusions of the Commission that the duty upon blended spirits should be only 12s. per gallon. He stated that he thought that the question was an open one, and invited an expression of opinion from honorable members as, to whether the rate of duty should be increased.

Sir John Quick - Does the Minister for Trade and Customs desire that the duty should be increased?

Mr DEAKIN - He stated that he was not satisfied that there should be an increase ; but that his confidence in the recommendation of the Commission had been shaken. He had previously thought that the proposed duty would be effective as it stood.

Sir John Quick - Does the Minister for Trade and Customs desire that the duty formerly levied should be continued?

Mr DEAKIN - I understand that he desires that the duty shall be increased from 12s. to 13s.

Sir John Quick - That is the existing law. What is the use of all our investigations, if that is the conclusion at which the Minister has arrived ?

Mr DEAKIN - My honorable colleague pointed out that the proposed alteration would make a difference in the incidence of the Excise duties, as compared with the import duties. Then he also made some suggestions with regard to the use of the word " grain " instead of " other materials."

Sir John Quick - I have no objection to that.

Mr DEAKIN - So far as I followed mv honorable colleague, those are the only two points to which he took any exception whatever in regard to the recommendations of the Commission.

Sir John Quick - If the protection proposed to be given to blended brandy and whisky is reduced, the whole scheme will be destroyed.

Mr DEAKIN - Of course, the honorable and learned member speaks with authority on the subject. I must say that at this moment I am not prepared to argue how the manufacture of blended" brandy and whisky in the Commonwealth ought to be treated.' Mv honorable colleague's criti cisms were limited to two, one of which the honorable and learned member for Bendigo admits was of only secondary importance. Therefore the only exception that could be taken to his remarks is to the one suggestion with reference to the increase of the duty upon blended spirits. Surely my honorable colleague was perfectly candid in communicating to honorable members the impression that had been made on his mind bv the viva voce representations made to him.

Sir John Quick - He had not heard the other side from the Victorian distillers' point of view.

Mr DEAKIN - And for that reason he invited honorable members to consider the whole question, and indicated that he would be glad to hear any reasons or facts that could be advanced' to justify the Commission's proposal. His attitude was a perfectly open-minded one, and I would point out to my honorable and learned friend that there was nothing derogatory to the Commission or Parliament in the action of my honorable colleague. After he had, with the consent of all his colleagues, adopted en bloc the whole of the recommendations of the Commission, he visited one of the greatest pure wine brandy centres of the' Commonwealth, and heard a great many representations antagonistic to the proposals. Then finding himself unable to answer them as thoroughly as he would have liked, he appealed to the Committee to review that one question, and, if possible, meet the objections .raised. He stated that at present his confidence in the recommendations of the Commission was shaken.

Mr Kelly - What would have happened if we had adopted the proposals without hesitation - would the. Minister have accepted that which, he did not believe in?

Mr DEAKIN - We have accepted the proposals as being based, upon the recommendations of the Tariff Commission after an exhaustive inquiry. The Minister was naturally disposed to rely upon their recommendations, and now he merely challenges one of them tentatively, and asks honorable members to assist him in discussing it. He has frankly placed before honorable members the difficulty that has occurred to him. Of course, if the matter had been placed before the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, he would, no doubt, have replied as he has done to-day - he would have given, in part, at all events, the reasons which could be urged against any modification of the recommendations of the Commission. No doubt there is a great deal to be said in support of the point of view put by him, but we can fully discuss the matter when the Excise duties are dealt with in detail. We have not yet reached that stage. We shall be called upon to deal first with the proposals to substitute higher duties for those previously collected upon imported spirits. The consideration of that matter is in no way affected by the suggestion of my honorable colleague, that one of the later proposals relating to the Excise duties may require to be reconsidered to some extent. My honorable colleague did not commit himself to any antagonism to the proposal, but indicated that when the time came he would be glad to receive further information. Therefore, after the issue immediately before us has been disposed of, we shall be able to fully examine the point that has been raised, and endeavour to settle any doubt that may exist.

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