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Thursday, 22 October 1931

Mr GABB (Angas) .- I. am pleased that this bill was circulated in sufficient time to give honorable members an opportunity to consider it; and not, as happened last night with the Wheat Charges Bill, only a few minutes before it was to be passed through all stages. Another gratifying feature is that the machinery provisions are set forth in such plain language as to be understandable by any person of ordinary education and intelligence. This is mainly a machinery measure for the levying of excise on wine instead of, as previously, merely on the fortified spirit contained in wine. The Minister has been, in full consultation with the Viticultural Council which now represents, I believe, all the big winemakers. They have had an opportunity to consider all aspects of it. For that reason there is no particular call upon me to speak on behalf of the wine-makers, especially as several distinguished representatives of the industry are in the galleries at this moment. But has the Minister taken pains to ascertain the views of the growers? When the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) asked that question, the Minister did not answer it, beyond saying that ho had received no protests from the growers. Will he inform the House what growers or associations of growers have been consulted in regard to the bill?

Mr Forde - The Honorable John Gunn, Director of Development, and Mr.

Gollan, Senior Excise Inspector, conducted an inquiry into the industry extending over nine months, and consulted aril interested parties.

Mr GABB - Does the Minister suggest that Messrs. Gunn and Gollan intimated to the growers the nature of this legislation 1

Mr Forde - No officer can know what the final decision of Cabinet will be on any matter ; therefore, Messrs. Gunn and Gollan could not tei! the growers what form this legislation would take. They could only recommend, and this bill is founded on their report.

Mr GABB - The Minister is skilfully evading my question and is trying to throw the responsibility on Messrs. Gunn and Gollan. The bill is supposed to make easier tho policing of the excise law in relation to the manufacture of wine. I question whether it will do so, but I do not pit my limited knowledge against, that of experienced officers. There .is no doubt, however, that the field to be supervised is being extended. Formerly the excise officers had to deal with the manufacturers of fortified spirit; now their supervision will apply to all makers of wine. The sphere of their duties is being widened', and the number of men who may be inclined to adopt doubtful practices will be proportionately greater. This legislation will ease the position of wine-makers; they will have greater freedom in their industry, and will not require to send frequently for the excise officers to release this thing and that thing from bond. Requests for drawbacks also will be obviated ; but any increase of convenience to the department and the wine-makers will be at the expense of the growers. The Minister's statement that no protests have been received from the growers is an indirect admission that he has not actually consulted them. Those in my district are of opinion that the heavy excise duty on fortifying spirit, and the' resultant increase in the price of wine limited consumption, and to that extent was detrimental to their interest. "Whilst the method of collecting excise does receive some consideration from them, they are more concerned with the amount of excise. We do not know yet what the rates will be. Messrs. Gunn and Gollan suggested an excise duty of 2s. a gallon.

Mr Forde - Theirs was only an advisory report ; the Government was not bound to accept their recommendations.

Mr GABB - I recognize that, and the Minister may treat their report as he treated those of the Tariff Board, which did not suit him.

Mr Forde - The report of Messrs. Gunn and Gollan is one of the finest I have read on any industry.

Mr GABB - I admit that it is very helpful in many ways.

Mr Forde - There are reports and reports.

Mr GABB - If the Minister is implying that the reports of the Tariff Board with which he agreed are reports, and those with which he did not agree are not reports, I resent that reflection upon a very able body. '

Mr Forde - All roses are sweet, but some are sweeter than others. [Quorum formed.]

Motion (by Mr. E. Riley) negatived -

That tho question be now put.

Mr GABB - I thank those honorable members who voted against the application of the gag. Unfortunately, the grape-growers of Australia have too few representatives in this House, and 1 want honorable members to be in attendance, so that they may fully understand the position of the industry. For that reason I called for a quorum. The bill provides that a fine of £20 shall be imposed upon any person who, without being registered, sells, grapes for making wine. I protest .against this penalty. The Minister, when moving the second reading of the bill, said that gold producers who benefit under the Gold Bounty Aci are called upon to register. The argument that he used in favour of registering grape-growers was that the winemakers are receiving an export bounty from which the grape. growers benefit. It is true that the gold producer has to register if he desires to participate in the bounty, but there is no penalty if he does not register. The linseed and flax growers also receive bounties under certain conditions, but there is no necessity for them to register: Of course, I should not expect the. Minister to agree that the cotton-growers of Queensland should be registered. They are able to obtain all the benefits of the bounty without being obliged to register.

Mr Paterson - Does not the honorable member think that it i3 necessary for the grape-growers to be registered?

Mr GABB - I shall deal with that later. I am opposing, not so much the registration, as the penalty of £20.

Mr Forde - Both tobacco-growers and gold-producers must register.

Mr GABB - That is so, but there is no penalty if they fail to register. The Minister has said that it is usual for the sugar-grower3 to register their names. I might be taken to task by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) if I said that there was a bounty paid on sugar, but there is in existence a sugar embargo which has all the benefits of a generous bounty. I have searched the Queensland acts, and I cannot find that the sugar-grower is compelled to register. I am open to correction on that point. In any case, if registration is necessary on the part of the sugar-grower, there is no penalty for failure to register. The Minister's best argument is in regard to the tobacco-growers. Under the Excise Act, it is necessary for tobacco-growers to register, and there is a penalty for failure to do so, but I still contend that a penalty of £20 for failure to register on the part of both the tobacco-growers and the grape-growers is unjust. Any lightening of the burden of the winemaker and the excise officer will be at the expense of the grape-grower.

Mr Forde - No fee is charged for registration, and the grape-growers are required to furnish a return once a year only.

Mr GABB - According to the Minister, tho grape-growers should be thankful that they are not being called upon to pay a registration fee.

I find no provision in the bill relating to dealers who purchase grapes for winemaking. For several years, dealers in South Australia have travelled through Adelaide and its suburbs purchasing grapes grown in backyards, and selling them for spirit and wine-making purposes. This year it seems there will be plenty of grapes in South Australia to meet the demand, and it will not be profitable for dealers to purchase grapes in- the suburbs, but the position may be different in the future. I admit that it is better to sell the grapes grown in backyards in that way than to leave them on the vines to ferment and become a nuisance. Honorable members may not realize how prolific grape vines are in South Australia. I trust that in the interests of the grape-growers it will again be necessary for the dealers to purchase grapes in and around the city of Adelaide, and that better times are in store for the industry, particularly under the Canadian Trade Agreement, which will permit the entry of our wines into Canada. I also hope that the British preference will be retained. If the exchange remains as it is at present, we shall have a decided advantage over South Africa. I am looking forward to an extension of our trade in sweet wines on the other side of the world. This bill should contain a provision enabling dealers to purchase grapes grown in and around the suburbs of Adelaide and elsewhere for wine-making purposes. Are these dealers, if they purchase grapes without being registered, to be liable to a penalty of £20? I think that the Minister should give consideration to that question. It would be ridiculous to impose a penalty of £20 upon. me just because I have four or five vines in my backyard and sell the grapes to a dealer who sells them for wine-making purposes. It would be equally foolish to contend that I should be registered before I could make such a sale. A dealer, of course, could be registered or licensed. The Minister has ,said that it does not cost the grape-grower anything for registration. That is quite true, but he fails to realize that unless the return which must be supplied by the growers is simple - and I fear the red tape of Government departments - many of them will be put to the expense of paying 10s. 6d. or £1 ls. for the compilation of the return. In South Australia many grapegrowers, especially those of the older generation, are conversant more with the German than with the English language. They have been brought up in Lutheran schools in which the German language was largely taught. If the return is complicated, they will be forced to incur additional expenditure. They have already been hit hard enough, and I contend that they should not be asked to suffer any further burden. I, therefore, urge the Minister aud his officers to make this return as simple as possible.

In my electorate a number of people >grow currants, aud, according to the market or the season, those currants are dried or sold to the winery or distillery. In the districts where these currants are grown - Angastown, Eden Valley, Springton, in the hills - sometimes the season is wet, and the currants are not able to be dried.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to S p.m. {Quorum formed.}

Mr GABB - When the Minister replies, I hope that he will make clear the position of the currant-growers. As 1 have already stated, the prices for dried fruits and the climatic conditions in certain districts cause growers to dry their fruit in some seasons and to take it to the 'wineries in other seasons. Clause 11 provides that -

A registered producer who celiacs to produce grapes at any premises in respect of which he is registered, shall forthwith give notice to tho Collector, and the Collector shall thereupon cancel his registration in respect of these premises. 1 draw attention to the words " who ceases to produce grapes ". As this bill deals entirely with grapes grown for the production of wine, I should like to know whether a grower who sells grapes to a winery one year, and the following year sells them as currants, will have to deregister each time that he passes from a grape-grower for wine-making purposes to a grape-grower for the purpose of producing currants. I do not want my constituents to have any doubt about this matter, and, therefore, I should like a definite reply from the Minister so that it can be recorded in Hansard.

Since it is evident that the Government intends that the growers of grapes shall be registered, any protest which I might make would be unavailing. If the growers of grapes for wine-making purposes are to be registered, I hope that, if constitutionally possible, new growers will be prevented from entering the industry until the demand overtakes the supply. In the report of the Minister's speech, as recorded in Hansard, I am credited with having interjected, "I hope that the object is not to prevent new growers from entering the industry". The word " not " should not be there. I said " I hope that the object is to prevent growers from entering the industry ". Unless the recent frost in South Australia has been particularly severe, there is every likelihood that large quantities of grapes will be left on the vines in the coming grape season. Unfortunately, that condition of things may continue for some years. There is room for a difference of opinion on this matter; but I am inclined to think that only gradually will conditions improve. Since 1924 I have done my best to discourage the planting of further areas with grapes for wine-making.

Mr Hughes - Does the honorable member suggest that the board should issue licences for fresh vineyards?

Mr GABB - This bill provides for the registration of all persons who grow grapes for the production of wine. As there is a glut in the wine market, I suggest, in the interests of the growers themselves, that further new registrations be refused for the time being.

Mr Forde - Did not the honorable member say that he is opposed to the registration of the growers?

Mr GABB - I did not say that. I am opposed chiefly to the heavy penalty provided for failure to register.

Mr Hughes - In the sugar industry the registration of new growers is restricted.

Mr GABB - I suggest that the same thine be done in this .industry.

Mr McNeill - What period does the honorable member think will elapse before further planting should be undertaken ?

Mr GABB - In that matter the Minister may safely rely on the advice of his senior inspector. I urge him not to act on the advice of the big winemakers, some of whom, I am afraid, are looking forward hopefully to the time when the smaller grape-growers will be in. the position of serfs. It is because I want to prevent that position from developing that I make' the request which I now submit to the Minister.

I should also like to know whether i t instill the intention of the Government that one-half of the amount derived from the excise shall be placed in a trust account. from which the bounty will be paid. That is the position to-day in connexion with the excise on fortifying spirit. I regard this measure from the point of view of the growers of grapes. The big winemakers have been so well represented, and are in receipt of so much inside information, that I do not feel called upon to speak on their behalf.

At an earlier stage, when the Minister was asked to give the name of one grower or organization that he had consulted, he fell back on Mr. Gollan, the senior inspector, and Mr. Gunn.

Mr Crouch - The Minister has had interviews with several growers, and has received a number of deputations. I introduced one deputation to him.

Mr GABB - I am glad to know that the Minister has consulted with other growers. He has, however, not consulted with the growers in South Australia, in which State is produced80 per cent. of the wine of this country.

I wish to make it clear that I did not intend to reflect on Mr. Gollan in any way. Nothing was further from my mind than that. On one occasion, when a deputation of grape-growers waited on me, I had to defend Mr. Gollan from an attack by a big wine-maker, who said that he was standing in the way of the growers. I have found the senior inspector to be wise and tactful in dealing with the difficult problems which he has had to face; he has not favoured either the growers or the makers of wine. Naturally, he considers the interests of the department of which he is an officer, and does what he can to protect the revenue of the country. I intend to move for a reduction of the heavy penalty on those who grow grapes for wine-making without being registered, but I do not wish it to be thought that in so doing I am out to encourage sly grog-selling.

Mr Beasley - What is the penalty for non-registration ?

Mr GABB - Clause 7 provides that -

No person shall produce grapes for use in the manufacture of wine unless he is registered pursuant to this part. Penalty: £20.

As a layman, I take it that the penalty is £20 in all cases.

Mr Latham - That is the maximum penalty.

Mr GABB - I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) for making the position clear. I have already said that the report of Messrs. Gollan and Gunn contains much valuable information, but I wish to make it clear that I do not agree with their recommendation to reduce the wine bounty to. 1s. 3d. a gallon. Already it is only about 1s. 4d., and probably the Minister will be satisfied with that. I hope that he will not further reduce the bounty. I have always found the senior inspector optimistic in regard to the prospects of the wine industry, but I hope that the Government will not go back on its original intention to grant sufficient bounty to enable the glut of wine to be sold. The Wine Overseas Marketing Board, in its annual report for the year ended the 30th June last, stated -

There can be no doubt that the position from Australia's point of view in regard to increased shipments has been very substantially assisted by the rates of exchange ruling. Competition from South Africa has been growing in intensity and the decreased purchasing power of the English community at the same time was creating a position that would have been extremely difficult indeed for Australian wine exporters. The present rate of exchange permits the English merchant to purchase Australian currency wherewith to pay the minimum fixed price, and the board is of opinion that it would be a mistake to endeavour to raise the price to the English importer at this moment, or to insist upon his rebating some of the exchange. Such an action would be tantamount to throwing away a unique opportunity for clearing the great accumulation of stocks in Australia, and emptyingour over-stocked cellars.

It seems that Messrs. Gunn and Gollan took notice of that statement in regard to exchange, because I observe that in their report they remark -

The British merchant has also taken advantage of the rate of exchange, prices in London having been reduced to the extent of the exchange premium. After a complete examination of the position it is considered that a reduction in the rate of bounty is justifiable. If the rate were reduced to1s. 3d. per gallon, it is not anticipated that the export trade would be seriously prejudiced.

I hope that the Minister will not be influenced unduly by the optimism of his senior inspector regarding the future of the wine trade. It must be realized that once South Africa's disadvantage owing to the exchange rate is removed, the competition of the wine trade of that country will be serious for Australia. If, as suggested, there were a common currency standard for the whole British Empire, South Africa, with its cheap coloured labour and its proximity to the British market would prove a formidable competitor with Australia in 'the export of wine. Some of our big wine-makers who have a home market are very little concerned about the export trade.

The ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Keane). - The honorable member's time has expired.

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