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Tuesday, 10 April 1973
Page: 1271

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) - Both of these Bills have the purpose of making beer produced in the home for non-commercial purposes exempt from excise duty. The present excise leviable by the Commonwealth on beer is about $1.10 a gallon which, when reduced to the excise on each bottle, means that the consumer buying beer at a bottle shop or an hotel is charged about 17c a bottle excise in the current price of something like 44c a bottle. The question of home brew is now before the House. The proposal is to allow beer to be produced or brewed in a home without the payment of excise. The Opposition supports this amendment. I point out that this decision, as the Minister for Secondary Industry (Dr J. F. Cairns) pointed out during his speech, is in line with the decisions taken in Great Britain and New Zealand where home brewing has been permitted for many years.

The present system is that beer brewed at home and not sold can be brewed free of excise, provided it is below 2 per cent proof, as it used to be known. One of my acts last year as Minister for Customs and Excise was to bring into this House legislation amending the way in which alcohol was measured. Honourable members might recall that there was an archaic system of measuring the strength of alcohol. I think some of the story has been lost in history, but the word 'proof came into common usage when a speck of gunpowder was put on the liquid and when it ignited and burst into flame it proved that the alcohol was pretty potent. In that way, the word proof' came into the language and was adopted generally.

Dr J F Cairns - There are other ways of proving alcohol.

Mr CHIPP - The Minister might be more expert in those ways than I; I am a temperate and virtuous member of Parliament. The breweries made an estimate some time ago that about 20 million gallons of home brew was produced in Australian homes each year. Although I am not a suspicious man, I could almost be persuaded to believe that not one gallon of that 20 mollion gallons was below 2 per cent proof. Therefore, the Act became rather farcical, unenforceable and unpoliceable.

I believe that it would be un-Australian and would be regarded as such by the Australian people to expect Customs officers to burst into a home where it was reasonably suspected that the householder was making his own home brew. At the excise rate of $1.10 a gallon, if the brewery estimate of 20 million gallons is correct there is a theoretical loss to revenue of more than $20m each year. I say that it is theoretical because if such beer is being produced at the moment - we believe it is - the excise is not now being collected. The only manner in which it could be collected would be for the Department of Customs and Excise to add an army of enforcers to its staff to police this law, and we do not believe that to be economical or desirable for the reasons that I have mentioned.

In recent years beer has undergone the phenomenon that almost everything else, from divorce to other matters, has undergone, namely, the production of do it yourself kits. There has been a flush of various do it yourself kits for home brewed beer which, I suspect, has resulted in the astronomical rise in sales of plastic dustbins which has been reflected in retail sales figures. Happily for government revenue, the pattern seems to be that a householder can get his bottles free in the form of the empties that he has after buying bottled beer from the brewery or the hotel and drinking it. He saves himself 17c a bottle in excise and suddenly it seems to be a lucrative proposition for him to brew beer at home either in his plastic dustbin or, to the consternation of his wife, in the enamel bath. However, for many reasons, the lustre of this exercise seems to lose a little of its keenness after a time and experience seems to be that many people who come into this venture with a burst of enthusiasm soon lose that enthusiasm and are queueing up at the bottle shop after a month or two of experimentation.

For those reasons we believe that the measure is a wise one. It is in line with comparable legislation in other countries. Alternative legislation could not be policed and the existing legislation has never been policed except when breaches have been reported to the Department of Customs and Excise. My friend the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) is not in the chamber but I would like to put a personal view. One looks at the justice of the complete removal of excise from wine while beer drinkers still pay excise of 17c a bottle. The equity of that action has never quite been described to me. I have never been persuaded on it. Further, I have never quite been persuaded about a party which is the self-confessed champion of the workers but insists that a worker pay excise of 17c on each battle of beer he drinks while an executive having his bottle of wine in a plush restaurant drinks it excise free. With those remarks the Opposition supports the Bill.

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