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Tuesday, 28 August 1906

Mr FOWLER (Perth) . - I wish to congratulate the honorable and learned member for Angas and the honorable member for Hindmarsh upon the way in which they have blossomed forth as experts in the spirit trade. I heartily admit that the House may learn much on this question from those who are not members of the Tariff Commission. At the same time I would respectfully urge that the recommendations of the Commission have been based on very careful and painstaking research, and that, while in some respects the evidence submitted to it has not been of that all-embracing character that we could have desired, the Commission has endeavoured to supplement any shortcomings in that direction bv official information available from other sources.

Sir John Quick - Hear, hear.

Mr FOWLER - I regret that, although I have listened very carefully- to the remarks of the honorable and learned member for Angas and the honorable member for Hindmarsh, I am still unable to adopt their view with regard to the non-necessity for ageing rectified spirit. So far as I can remember, they have not adduced any particularly expert evidence to support their contention. The honorable and learned member for Angas has spoken of the knowledge of the experts of the Department. I admit that they are, as a rule, highly capable and efficient, so far as the particular work with which they have to do is concerned ; but I do not admit that they have that special knowledge which would enable them to decide what are the true classes of spirit, the higher classes of spirit, and what constitute the essential elements of good and bad spirit. Those matters are wholly beyond their province. Whilst they have given the Commission much useful information, they have been careful, as a rule, to deal only with those details upon which their experience enables them to give information of value. In most cases, they have frankly indicated their limitations in this respect. I have been at considerable pains to read up, not one), but several authorities an. rectified spirits, and, in addition to what is the universal experience, I find an overwhelming mass of evidence to support the contention of the Commission that even highly rectified spirit, if new, is not nearly so wholesome as that which has been matured for a number of years.

Mr Hutchison - In what respect is it bad?

Mr FOWLER - I have already said, but for the benefit of the honorable member I shall repeat the statement, that chemistry is very much at a loss to explain the particular constituents of alcohols - their qualities and the operations that take place in the changing of the various constituents from one chemical form to another. That has beep admitted by the ablest chemists who have come before the Commission. In dealing with questions about which the ablest men know the least, witnesses, as a rule, have been most dogmatic in proportion to their lack of knowledge. We have overwhelming evidence to the effect that raw rectified spirit is highly injurious when taken into the human system. That is undoubtedly the experience of those countries in which alcohol is used as a common beverage by the mass of the people. In Scotland, " Ireland, and of late years, on the Continent of Europe - in Germany and France, where highly rectified spirits have, unfortunately, largely been coming into consumption - the testimony is almost unanimous that a process of deterioration physical, mental, and moral takes place in those who swallow raw, and highly rectified spirit:

Mr Hutchison - That is so, but we are dealing with rectified spirit to be used for blending purposes.

Mr FOWLER - The evidence goes to show the necessity for keeping highly rectified spirit under lock and key for two years after it. has been manufactured.

Mr Johnson - What effect would that have on the spirit?

Mr FOWLER - It would make it less injurious. Common experience points to the advantage of keeping such spirit in bond for two years. It is found that, as the result of ageing, it mellows and becomes less injurious in human consumption.

Mr Johnson - That is contradicted by many experts.

Mr FOWLER - I should be glad if honorable members would quote those experts. I have been at great pains to discover the opinions of experts on this subject, and am indicating that, whilst they think-

Mr Hutchison - Is not the honorable member dealing more particularly with highly rectified spirit, which is sold for use without being blended with other spirit.

Mr FOWLER - I say that highly rectified spirit, VE new, even when taken in con junction with any other spirit, is injurious in proportion to its newness.

Mr Johnson - All spirit, whether rectified or otherwise, is injurious.

Mr Hutchison - But the pot distilled spirit must be kept.

Mr FOWLER - The honorable member admits that, but he will not admit that highly rectified spirit should be kept. In my opinion it should be kept, and the experience of experts shows that it is more necessary to mature highly rectified spirit than to mature pot distilled spirit.

Mr Johnson - Why?

Mr FOWLER - That is not easy to explain. The chemical constituents of spirit, and the changes which take place in it, are not very well known, even by the best chemists. They admit that they have to act largely on the result of practical experience, which is almost universally to the effect that crude spirit, even though highly rectified, is injurious to the human constitution, and becomes less injurious after it has been kept for a period of years.

Mr Johnson - That is very questionable.

Mr FOWLER - The honorable member may question the statement, but it sets forth what I believe to be the attitude of science and of experience in regard to the subject.

Mr Johnson - Does not the honorable member think that all spirits are injurious if used as beverages?

Mr FOWLER - I do not wish to discuss that point at the present time. If spirits are poisons, thev must be regarded as remarkably slow in their action.

Mr Johnson - They sometimes produce insanity very quickly.

Mr FOWLER - I do not believe in the use of alcoholic beverages; but I ask why it is, if spirits are so injurious as some persons would make out, that nations. which have been soaking in alcohol for centuries are still, physically, mentally, arid morally, amongst the highest races on the earth?

Mr Johnson - I dispute the soundness of the contention.

Mr FOWLER - The subject is a big one, but I do not wish to discuss it now, as I must keep to my text. If rectified spirit is used in Australia, in the manufacture of brandy, I regret it, and hope that the practice will be discouraged by this Legislature. A great deal of the evidence put before us shows that the best brandy is produced by means of the pot still, and pot stills only are used in those countries which manufacture the brandy bearing the best reputation. Rectified spirit may be used in compounding a so-called brandy, but the concoction is not a true brandy.

Mr Hutchison - It should not be called brandy.

Mr FOWLER - With regard to the maturing of gin in wood, it is objected that the colour thereby imparted to the spirit would retard its sale.

Mr Hutchison - It would give it the colour that whisky possesses.

Mr FOWLER - Although of recent years' the whisky sold has possessed an amber tint, I remember when in Scotland all the whisky was as colourless as the gin now on the market, notwithstanding that it had been matured in wood. The colouring to which the honorable member for Hindmarsh refers is due, not to maturing in wood, but to maturing in sherry casks, and it has not. been proved that casks or other wooden vessels could not be made in which gin could be stored for a number of years without being coloured. A great deal of the whisky sold nowadays is almost identical in its component parts with gin, though flavoured differently.

Mr Hutchison - Does the honorable member know of any merchant who keeps his gin in wood ?

Mr FOWLER - No : but I think it likely that gin can be stored in wood without being discoloured thereby. If, however, it could be shown that it would be of advantage to mature gin in vessels other than wood, I would not object to that being done.

Mr Hutchison - It is best to sell gin soon after it has been made.

Mr FOWLER - If the honorable member inquires the prices of different brands of gin, he will find that he must pay more for gin which has been matured than: for gin which is new, and will be told that matured gin is superior in quality to new gin. What weighed with the Commission, in recommending the storage of spirit in wood, was that it is necessary to prevent storage in bottles being allowed to count, it being the general opinion of experts that spirit doe's not lapp red ably mature after bottling,

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