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Wednesday, 15 August 1906

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) .- The question is whether we shall provide that certain spirit shall not go- into consumption until is has been in bond for two years. I hope that the Committee will not require that tobe done by Act of Parliament, but will leave the matterto be dealt with by regulation, because of the great difference of opinion as to the advantages to be derived from the keeping of spirit in bond.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would the honorable and learned member give the Minister power to deal with this matter by regulation ?

Mr CONROY - Yes, because any regulations that may be passed will have to come before Parliament.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We are too much governedby regulations at present.

Mr CONROY - No doubt that is so, though no one has listened when I have tried to impress the fact upon honorable members ; but this is a matter which -should be dealt with by regulation.We cannot shut our eyes to the possibility of chemical discovery which may show that spirit is not improved by being kept in bond: We cannot say that the work of the synthetic chemist is at an end. and that no further discoveries will be made. Consequently we should deal with this subjectby regulation, which would be capable of alteration by a very simple process, instead ofby an Act of Parliament.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -An Act of Parliament could be amended.

Mr CONROY - Its amendment would require the introduction of a special Bill; and it isalways troublesome to get such amending legislation passed.

Mr CONROY - Yes ; but when no great interest is at stake, it is very difficult to find time for amending legislation altering the existing order of things. Honorable members should remember that present opinions may be upset at any moment by a new discovery.

Mr Fowler - What new discovery?

Mr CONROY - If honorable members did a little reading they would be aware of the possibility of which I speak, though, no doubt, such a course of conduct would make many of them uneasy, because of the votes which they have given in the past. I remember that, five or six years ago, an article appeared - I think in the Lancet - in which it was pointed out that, if distillers liked to take the trouble, they could adopt processes which would give a spirit so pure that there would be no need for the keeping of large stocks for maturing purposes. These statements were, made in reference to the patent still which was then coming into use.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Could that be done under ordinary commercial conditions?

Mr CONROY - It was said so. I regret that there is not in our library a good work on chemistry of recent date, which would have enabled me to fortify myself - if I may use such an expression in dealing with spirits - on this subject; but an article appearing "in the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1898, and probably written in 1896 or 1897, practically bears out the statement to which I have just referred. It must be remembered that during the last twenty or twentyfive years synthetic chemistry has made tremendous developments, so that we may stand on the verge of great discoveries.

Mr Fowler - Syntheticchemistry has been largely responsible for the building up of sham brandies and whiskies.

Mr CONROY - The flavour of spirit is due to the by-products left in it.

Mr Fowler - I have been trying to impress that upon, the Committee for the last two days. Rectification tends to eliminate these by-products.

Mr CONROY - It has been argued that these by-products are harmful. Yesterday the honorable member for Bland asked us to provide, not by regulation, but in an Act of Parliament, that spirits shall be kept in bond for two years. One reason for not doing so by Act of Parliament

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not the kind of spirit we want.

Mr CONROY - Then honorable members should not talk about wanting a pure spirit. They should confess that they want a spirit that is not rectified and is not pure, that they desire to foster a taste for an impure article. They should not talk cant upon such a question. If honorable members prefer to drink a spirit containing impurities which give it a flavour there is a good deal to be said in favour of their taste. I object, however, to their putting forward a number of statements upon the pretence that they are imparting chemical knowledge. They are doing nothing of the kind. When I saw the recommendation pi the Tariff Commission that spirit should be kept in wood for two years I looked through the report to ascertain what had caused them to arrive at that conclusion.

Sir John Quick - We arrived at it upon the evidence.

Mr CONROY - Judging by the evidence, the Commission were perfectly right.

Sir John Quick - Only one witness was against adopting the course recommended.

Mr CONROY - The other witnesses were not asked their opinion.

Sir John Quick - Yes, they were.

Mr CONROY - Not in a good many cases. All the witnesses whose views were in accord with the recommendations of the Commission had not devoted themselves tothe study of this particular branch of chemistry. Some of them spoke from the knowledge of fifteen or twenty years ago, and' apparently had not taken the trouble to keep themselves up-to-date. When I read the evidence, I regretted that I had not been appointed to the Commission, so that I might have asked the witnesses one or two questions. I desire to quote a further statement from the Encyclopaedia upon this subject. It reads as follows: -

Methods foi obtaining a satisfactory potable spirit are, so far, however, only successful up to a certain point, and the distiller is therefore bound to have recourse to prolonged storage or to one of the many artificial processes of purification and maturing, the majority of which have been devised - with varying successes - during recent years. . . . By properly regulating the distilling heats, by using a well-devised still, both in the first instance and also for rectifying, a product very free from fusel oil, and especially from fatty aldehydes and volatile ethers, may be obtained. The removal of acids - objectionable chiefly on account of the unpleasant decomposition products which they form in still - is carried out by neutralizing the still contents with an alkaline medium. The alkali so used also decomposes undesirable compound ethers, and retains some of the aldehydes by converting them into non-volatile polymery. For the elimination of fusel oil, filtering through charcoal is the most common method. Luck has suggested for this purpose the passing of the alcoholic vapours through petroleum, which is said to absorb the higher alcohols much more easily than it does ordinary spirit ; and some distillers have successfully tried the method of Traube, which consists in treating the spirit with a saturated aqueous solution of various inorganic salts.

Even this work is not quite up-to-date. Some time ago I read some articles containing information far in advance of that which appears in the EncyclopaediaBritannica, but, unfortunately, I have not been able to place my hand upon them for the purposes of this discussion. I was particularly struck with the articles to which I refer, because, some twenty years ago, I took a great interest in the subject. Of course, honorable members must distinctly understand that I had only an elementary knowledge, and did not pretend to be able to discuss the matter with any man who understood his work. I had a knowledge sufficient to enable me to take an intelligent interest in the subject. I think that the articles appeared in the Lancet, but I cannot say with any certainty. I find by reference to the Encyclopedia that in 1898 - -three or four years before I read the articles referred to - premonitions were already being uttered that the old method of setting; aside the distillates for so many years, until they became rectified in some way quite inexplicable to chemists, would be abandoned.

Mr Fowler - The only way in which they could judge was by results.

Mr CONROY - The honorable member is perfectly right. I listened with considerable interest to his remarks with re gard to the methods employed for so many years in the Charente district of France.

Mr Fowler - They employ the same methods to-day.

Mr CONROY - I do not think so, because if they did, the best brandy would cost us 25s. per bottle instead of the price that we now have to pay for it. They may adopt methods which enable them to retain particular flavours, but that is all. I am not quite sure whether, so far as the physiological aspect of the case is concerned, the brandy made according to the old crude methods is not more injurious, than spirit highly rectified under the new process. But I cannot speak upon this subject as an expert. If the provision with regard to keeping spirit in wood for two years is to be retained, it would be very much better to adopt the proposal of the Government, and to deal with the matter by regulation, rather than by embodying it in an Act. As I have pointed out, a regulation is capable of amendment from time to time to suit the circumstances as they arise. Regulations have to be discussed in Cabinet and afterwards .submitted to the House.

Mr Page - In that case, it would be as difficult to amend a regulation as to amend an Act - a majority of the House would be required in either case.

Mr CONROY - No ; the preparation of a Bill is an important matter, and occupies a considerable time. Then again, a Bill has to go through three readings, and generally excites a great deal of discussion. In fact, the consideration of Bills dealing with technical matters involves a great waste of" time, because the majority of honorablemembers know nothing, whatever about thesubject dealt with. ,

Mr Robinson - The honorable and? learned member is assuming that the Minister of Trade and Customs has1 more knowledge than other honorable members.

Mr CONROY - I asume that the Minister acts under the advice of his officers. If honorable members are determined that spirit shall be kept in wood for two years - the matter is not a vital one - the necessary provision should be made by regulation. If 'we embody such a provision in an Act we shall in effect declare that chemical knowledge has reached a certain point, and will never progress, that it will be impossible to produce wholesome spirit except by * keeping it in wood for two years after distillation. I decline to put any such limitation upon the synthetic chemists of theday, who thoroughly understand their work, and are making rapid strides in the acquirement of knowledge. Our knowledge is distinctly twenty or thirty years behind that of scientific men of the times. It is absolutely impossible for a man to keep pace with scientific knowledge in all its branches.

Mr Bamford - What is the point which the honorable and learned member desires to make?

Mr CONROY - I say that in the first place we ought not to impose any limitation of the character suggested, and, secondly, that if we do impose one, effect should be given to it by regulation, and not by an Act of Parliament. If the reasons which I have advanced are not conclusive the fault is not mine. I have merely pointed out what I believe to be right, and I feel doubly fortified in the opinion that I am right when I see so many honorable members upon the opposite side.

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