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Tuesday, 14 August 1906

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) .- This motion is on a par with all those other proposals which we have been accustomed to receive at the hands of the Minister of Trade and Customs. I think I am right in saying that during this session he has not brought down a single proposal which has given evidence of careful consideration, matured judgment, correct information, or even a clear knowledge of its character. We find ourselves to-day in a position in which we have frequently found ourselves. The Minister brought down a proposal, but before we had time to enter upon the discussion of it, he discovered that it was untenable, and therefore he intends to submit certain amendments. This has happened in the case of every measure he has submitted. I venture to say that in no other Parliament has there ever been such an exhibition of incapacity on the part of a Minister as that to which we have been treated toy him on this as on previous occasions. Like all other measures with which he has been associated, the main object of this proposal is obviously to benefit Victorian industries at the expense of the other States. It is a most singular thing that a Minister representing a New South Wales constituency should always have so little regard to the interest of his own State. Whenever an opportunity is offered, he invariably brings down measures which he declares are to benefit Australian industries, but which in their operation would more largely benefit Victoria than any other State. It is plainly evident that the proposal before the Committee is made in the interests of not even Victoria as a whole, but of one firm in that State, and that is the firm of Joshua Brothers. I am credibly informed that it is the one firm in the whole of Australia which goes in largely for the adulteration of liquor.

Mr Watson - Does the honorable member say that the Tariff Commission has leaned towards Joshua Brothers? The proposal before the Committee is practically the proposal of that body.

Mr JOHNSON - The Minister's proposal is not that of the Tariff Commission.

Mr Watson - So far as the amount of protection to be given to Joshua Brothers is concerned, it is exactly the same.

Mr JOHNSON - Whatever the Commission may have done, the Minister, in the interests of that firm alone, has seized the opportunity afforded by its report to come down with a proposal which, if adopted, would injure similar industries in other parts of Australia.

Mr Tudor - How?

Mr JOHNSON - I am going to proceed to show how it would.

Mr Watson - Is not the degree of protection to Joshua Brothers the same under this proposal as under the Commission's recommendation ?

Mr JOHNSON - That has nothing to do with the point of my argument.

Mr Watson - Therefore, it is the Tariff Commission which is favouring the firm, if it is favoured.

Mr JOHNSON - I do not care whether the Tariff Commission favours what the firm is doing or not. Had it anything to do with the Australian Industries Preservation Bill, or the Commerce Bill, or other Bills which were framed to favour Victorian manufacturers at the expense of the other States? That is what I am complaining about. We know quite well that the whole of this legislation is submitted in consequence of an agitation which has been conducted mainly by the firm of Joshua Brothers. I am credibly informed that, before the new duties were proposed. Joshua Brothers had their warehouses full of spirits which they wanted to unload on the market, but - so I am informed by local hotelkeepers - the public prefer imported spirits to those manufactured by Joshua Brothers; that, as a matter of fact, that firm's spirits are not healthful, but, on the contrary, very injurious.

Mr Watson - That is not true.

Mr JOHNSON - I am merely stating what persons in the business have told me. I do not profess to speak from personal knowledge, because I do not take alcoholic stimulants.

Mr Watson - It is not a proper thing to say. It may not be whisky or brandy, but, certainly, it is not injurious. It is good sugar spirit from the Clarence River, and that will not hurt any one.

Mr JOHNSON - That is a matter on which competent authorities differ in opinion.

Mr Isaacs - Which spirit does the honorable member recommend for medicinal purposes ?

Mr JOHNSON - Some of the authorities declare that no spirit other than brandy made from pure grape juice should be prescribed for medicinal purposes, and that all other spirits are injurious.

Mr Watson - It depends upon what the medicinal purpose is. There are two or three different kinds of spirits which maybe prescribed to patients suffering from different diseases.

Mr JOHNSON - I shall come to that aspect of the question presently, and if I do not happen to forget it, I propose to quote what one verv eminent authority has said. In these matters I prefer to take thu opinion of experts to the opinions of tho"who have no claim to be experts. The honorable member for Bland, however, may be an expert for all I know to the contrary. Joshua Brothers is the one firm in Australia which would secure a practical monopoly as the result of this legislation. It must 'be remembered that, to a large extent, it is only a distributor of spirits which are manufactured in an adjoining State. All the spirit which comes to Victoria from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in New South Wales is sold to Joshua Brothers.

Mr Bamford - Has the honorable member any evidence of that?

Mr JOHNSON - Yes ; the evidence taken by the Tariff Commission, including that of Mr. Knox, the manager of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.

Sir John Quick - Mr. Joshua stated on oath that he sold that spirit on merchant's commission.

Mr JOHNSON - I am not prepared to accept Mr. Joshua's statements as gospel. He is the gentleman who declared that every protectionist is a liar, and, as he himself is a protectionist, I should be very careful about accepting, as reliable, assertions of that sort from his lips.

Mr McColl - He said every moderate protectionist.

Mr JOHNSON - I believe that he did make that qualification. I have been told that Messrs. Joshua Brothers have their stores full of spirit, and wish to obtain an advantage over importers of spirits in order to get their goods upon the market. Their complaint that they could not get their goods upon the market was, I understand, the excuse for these proposals.

Mr Storrer - What evidence has the honorable member for that?

Mr JOHNSON - I am entitled, as the honorable member or any one else would be, to Base my remarks on information received. The honorable member for Bass would find it very difficult to substantiate, by an affidavit, every statement he made here. The report has been circulated that, although Messrs. Joshua Brothers asked for legislation of this kind only to enable them to put their goods on the market, and conveyed the impression that they had no intention of raising their prices, they have increased the price of one brand of whisky by1s. a gallon and of another by1s. 6d. a gallon.

Mr Bamford - The Excise duty has been increased by1s. a gallon.

Mr JOHNSON - The protectionists say that the duties are paid by the foreigner, but it is the consumers of Victoria who will have to pay any increase in the price of the article put on. the local market by Messrs. Joshua Brothers. The firm has notgiven an absolute denial of the rumour ; it says, in a circular -

Whereas a rumour has been circulated to the effect that we have taken advantage ofrecent Tariff changes to raise our prices for Australian spirits, and whereas we believe the object of this rumour is to prejudice the interests of Australian distillers in the forthcoming Parliamentary discussion, we desire it to be known -

1.   That we have made no public announcement whatever on the subject.

2.   That we have since the closing down of our works in 1902, been selling stocks at cost price and under (and this fact is recorded in the Tariff Commission's report) ; and

3.   That we undertake for the future not to sell below cost price unless absolutely compelled to so liquidate. (Signed) For Joshua Bros. Ppy. Ltd.,

J.   M. Joshua, Director.

Sir John Quick - Must not the firm increase its prices, seeing that the Excise duty has been raised by1s. a gallon?

Mr JOHNSON - Messrs. Joshua Bros, gave it out that their desire was not to increase prices, but merely to get their goods upon the market. But what I want to know is what has become of the obliging foreigner who protectionists always tell us pays all our duties ? I do not take alcoholic stimulants, and, in my opinion, it would be a good thing if the importation and local manufacture of spirits, except for medicinal purposes, were absolutely prohibited, and those engaged in the industry employed in some undertaking which would be helpful instead of injurious to the com-; munity. The plea cannot rightly be put forward that protection must be given to the distilling industry because of the number of persons that it employs, since there are fewer hands employed in that industry than in any other in proportion to the value of the output. A little time since, I went through the Colonial Sugar Company's distillery at Pyrmont, Sydney. That is a very large place, fitted up with the latest and most improved appliances for the distillation of spirits, and having a very large output; but the total number of hands employed is only about a dozen. However, my wish is to deal with the probable effect of the proposed duties. In my opinion, the result of their imposition will be to give those who consume spirituous liquors a more impure and more deleterious rather than a purer and better article, and to bring down the standard of Australian production. So far as I can gather from the information supplied to me, the purest spirit made in Australia is distilled from molasses by the patent still process. It has been urged that the rectification of spirit gets rid of valuable qualities, but, on the other hand, experts say that the purest spirit is the least harmful from a toxic stand-point.

Mr Fowler - That is a moot point.

Mr JOHNSON - There is a difference of opinion in regard to it. The weight of evidence of experts, however, amongst whom is Mr. Wilkinson, goes to show that the purer the spirit the less intoxicating are its effects.

Mr Fowler - French Cognac, the finest and most expensive brandy in the world, is distilled by the oldest apparatus, which allows the natural ethers to be given over in the greatest profusion.

Mr JOHNSON - Would what is sold as Cognac in the average public bar be prescribed as a stimulant, in cases of sickness where pure brandy was necessary by a medical man who had any care for his reputation ?

Mr Fowler - It is pure brandy.

Mr JOHNSON - I understand that the ordinary commercial Cognac is not pure brandy. I have been told by persons well versed in the spirit trade that certain brandies are popular because of their palatable flavour. This flavour is due to the presence in the spirit of certain deleterious elements which are not extracted in pot-still distillation as they are in the process of rectification by the patent still processes. In the Colonial Sugar Company's distilleries the spirit is distilled above 60 degrees over-proof for the purpose of getting rid of the fusel oil and other deleterious elements.

Mr Fowler - They endeavour to produce a neutral silent spirit that may be used in the manufacture of half-a-dozen different liquors.

Mr JOHNSON - It is proposed that no spirit shall be sold unless it has been kept in wood for two years after distillation, but nothing is to be gained by keeping highly rectified spirit in wood for any length of time after it has been distilled. As a matter of fact, all the impurities are extracted in the process of rectification. Spirit distilled at a strength of, say, 35 per cent, over-proof contains a large proportion of fusel oil and other deleterious elements which are nauseous, and that is the reason why it is kept in wood for a considerable time - for two, and sometimes three, years. I am informed, further, that the effect of keeping such spirit in the wood is not to rid it of impurities, but merely to disguise their presence, and make the spirit more palatable than it otherwise would be.

Mr Watson - - The honorable member should take a glass of good whisky, and then he would be able to speak with some authority

Mr JOHNSON - My information has been gained from men engaged in the manufacture of spirit, who probably know more about the subject than does the honorable member for Bland - although I am quite willing to concede that he may be an expert. I thought that it would be a good thing for .me to visit a distillery and find out exactly what was done.

Mr Watson - Did not the odour of the spirit affect the honorable member?

Mr JOHNSON - No. It was pointed out to me that silent spirit has no odour until it is rubbed on the hands, and the aroma is brought out by the heat caused by friction. The provision relating to the spirit being kept for two years in wood is also made to apply to gin. Those who are best qualified to speak upon the matter tell me that gin, above all other spirits. should be consumed as soon as possible afte┬╗ it has been distilled, in order that the full benefit of the juniper juice used in its manufacture may be derived by the drinker. Then with regard to rum, I may. point out that the Australian product is made from silent white spirit extracted from molasses and coloured with burnt sugar. This spirit is ready for immediate consumption, and nothing is to be gained by keeping it in wood for the period proposed. If the condition sought to be imposed is insisted upon, the Colonial Sugar Company in Sydney and a number of similar establishments in Queensland will have to be closed up, or the spirits manufactured will have to be exported to Europe. Thence they will probably be brought back to Australia in the shape of popular blends of brandy or whisky. I have a copy of a letter from the South Australian Winegrowers' Association, in which attention is directed to the disabilities under which Australian wine-growers will be placed by the proposed legislation. I wish to refer to this letter to show that in order to benefit one Victorian manufacturer, it is proposed to place disabilities upon others engaged in primary industries connected with the same line of business. This letter, which was addressed to the Minister of Trade and Customs, reads as follows : -

In response to your invitation for suggestions from those interested in respect of the conclusions of the Royal Commission on Customs and Excise Tariffs, the Council of this Association, with the concurrence of the brandy distillers of this State, have the honour to address you in reference to the suggested definition of brandy, as set forth in progress report No. 2.

This definition will be found in the final paragraph of Section XXV. on page 35 of the report in question, where a serious anomaly has crept in - doubtless inadvertently - because " Appendix D " (which is quoted) is entirely at variance with that decision.

The anomaly referred to consists in this - that whereas the definition of " whisky," blended for commercial purposes, is that such blend shall consist of 25 per cent, of spirit, distilled from barley malt, and the remainder grain spirit to the exclusion of any spirit distilled from other sources, that of brandy is that such blend shall consist of 25 per cent, of true brandy, while the remainder " may be patent still spirits from any approved material. (See appendix B)."

My council feel that the trade in Australian pure grape brandy is essential to the well-being of the viticultural industry of the Commonwealth, as well as to that of this State, and that if this permission obtains, the trade already secured will be seriously prejudiced, if not destroyed.

During the last fifteen years the South Aus- tralian distillers have been building up a large trade in grape wine brandies, distilled under strict Customs supervision, and a reputation for an article of undoubted purity. This trade will be ruined in many directions if future legislation permits of a liquid, 75 per cent, of which may consist of cheap spirit produced from molasses, potatoes, grain, or maize, being foisted on the public as brandy. In this connexion it is satisfactory to notice, as a result of recent tests of spirits made in Perth by Mr. E. A. Mann, the Government Analyst of Western Australia, that all the Australian brandies examined, without exception, appeared to be of genuine character.

The importance of the brandy industry to the vine-growers of this State alone may be shown by the fact that in 1904 no less than 956,000 gallons of wine were distilled, and if this industry should be destroyed by reason of lax legislation, the value of 50,000 acres of vineyards would be seriously affected.

That is a very serious matter to these vinegrowers.

Sir John Forrest - Will the condition of affairs under these proposals be worse than it was previously ?

Mr JOHNSON - Undoubtedly, it will ; for instead of brandy being wholly made from pure grape juice only one-fourth of it will be grape juice.

Sir John Forrest - I do not think so.

Mr JOHNSON - The South Australian vignerons say so.

Sir John Forrest - Is the honorable member referring to the production, of brandy ?

Mr JOHNSON - Yes. The communication continues -

My association is therefore of opinion that the term " brandy " should only be allowed to apply to spirit distilled exclusively from fermented grape juice, and that, iri view of the large and increasing proportion of brandy in use for medical purposes, its purity should be absolute, and still guaranteed by strict Government inspection.

In the case of all spirits imported into the Commonwealth under the name of " brandy " or " Cognac," they should be accompanied by a certificate of origin, which should guarantee that such spirit is genuine.

The council of this association desire most respectfully to draw your attention to the evidence of Mr. A. B. Holmes, of Hunter Valley Distillery, Mr. W. A. Wilkinson, of New South Wales, and also that of Senior Inspector E. P. Clarke, of South Australia, in regard to the importance of this matter.

That letter is signed by Mr. John Creswell, the secretary of the South Australian Vine-growers' Association. The proposals now under consideration will undoubtedly promote the production of a less pure spirit than has hitherto been placed upon the Austraiian market. Thus, instead of being supplied with brandies made from pure grape wine spirit, we shall get brandies which contain a very large proportion of spirit which has been produced from molasses and potatoes. In other words, instead of obtaining an article which will be useful for medicinal purposes, the Government proposals will tend to destroy that portion of the industry which goes in for the distillation of pure brandy, and to promote the production of impure brandy, which .contains only one-fourth or 25 per cent, of pure grape wine spirit, and threefourths of spirit which has been distilled from molasses and potatoes and other materials. As a matter of fact, I have been informed that at the end of last week, Messrs. Joshua Brothers gave an order to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company of Sydney for 10,000 gallons of white spirit, which is to be used in the production of brandy. Messrs. Joshua Brothers' " Boomerang" brand of brandy consists of 25 per cent, of pure grape wine spirit, and 75 per cent, of spirit which is obtained from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.

Mr Fowler - According to the honorable member's theory that is the more wholesome and purer article, inasmuch as it contains a bigger proportion, of silent spirit.

Mr JOHNSON - The spirit which under this Act will be used in the manufacture of brandy is to be distilled no higher than 35 per cent, over-proof, which is teo low to allow of the effective extraction of fusel oil and other poisonous elements. I am speaking of spirit which is not distilled from the pure juice of the grape, and which is not necessary to the production of brandy.

Mr Glynn - Seventy-five per cent, of the grape spirit is also silent.

Mr JOHNSON - But the important point is that the spirit itself is distilled from the pure juice of the grape. The other spirit is obtained from molasses. The Queensland distilleries and the distillery of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in New South Wales only produce spirit from molasses as far as I know. I do not profess to be an expert upon this subject, but the complaint is made bv vignerons, and by other persons who are engaged in the trade that the effect of these proposals will be to promote adulteration, and to discourage the production of pure grape spirit. At the present time Australian spirit has a good reputation upon the European market. The persons to whom I have referred complain that under the Government proposals they will Le. placed at a disadvantage in that market, and instead of enjoying a reputation for selling only good, pure grape spirit, they will be regarded as adulterators, and will be included in the same category as persons who are engaged in some of the Chicago meat industries. In regard to what constitutes brandy, I think I may be pardoned for quoting the opinion of Dr. Henry Macnaughton-Jones, the well-known obstetrician, of Harley-street, who gave evidence in a test case which was recently heard at the North London Court. He said -

He had heard of the artificial brandy, which was derived from sources other than the grape. He would not like to surmise what would be the result if a common or artificial brandy were administered- He would not prescribe one part of Cognac and three parts of silent spirit.

In reply to the magistrate, he said -

I would not call that brandy. I would not administer a brandy that would create a burning sensation, and probably set up irritation, and a tendency to reject the intended stimulant. Pure brandy has no such tendency. It has a stimulating and sustaining effect.

If we are to engage in the liquor-producing industry in Australia we should endeavour to insure that as pure an article as possible is supplied to the public. Personally I am opposed to the liquor industry absolutely, but until we can get rid of it altogether we should endeavour to insure the least amount of injury to health in connexion with it. But if legislation of this character will have the effect of destroying the purity of the articles which are being supplied by Australian distillers, it will be mischievous in a double sense. In the first place, it will tend to destroy one set of industries for the purpose of affording protection to a single manufacturer, and in the second it will tend to still further injure - if not to absolutely destroy - the health of a great number of persons in the community.

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