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Wednesday, 2 June 1926

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) . - It has been stated that the discussion on this item in another place was a spirited one, which was not due to the fact that the item was whisky, but because it was the first in the schedule. The consumption of whisky is greater than that of any other spirit. Certain honorable senators may say that there is far too heavy a consumption; and some, if they had the power, would absolutely prohibit the manufacture and consumption of all kinds of whisky, whether

Scotch, Irish, Canadian Club, or Australian. This afternoon we are not called upon to deal with that aspect of the liquor question ; but I, as a protectionist, must assist the Government to pass those duties that are essentially of a protective character. It rather surprised me to hear Senator Barwell, who is an Australian by birth, say that the Australian whisky is not equal to the imported article.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - I did not say that. What I said was that the Australian whisky did not suit my taste.

Senator FINDLEY - The honorable senator inferred that we should judge whisky by its taste and not by its quality.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Would not the honorable senator do that?

Senator FINDLEY - No. The test of quality is the purity of the ingredients, not the taste of the article. The honorable senator's arguments reminded me of the pioneers in the co-operative movement, who, possessing limited capital but a high ambition, put forth superhuman efforts to place upon the market commodities that were free from adulteration.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - A commodity must be palatable.

Senator FINDLEY - Because the people were accustomed to partaking of unwholesome commodities, it took years of effort on the part of the pioneers in that movement to educate them to the virtues of pure and wholesome foods.

Senator Thompson - The public is the best judge, and it says that the Scotch whisky is the best.

Senator FINDLEY - For the moment we are not concerned with the views of the public in regard to this duty. We must act irrespective of any opinion that may be expressed outside regarding the quality of any commodity, and we must encourage in every possible way the establishment of industries in Australia. In 1914 the duty on whisky was 14s., and the excise 10s., the preference amounting to 28 per cent. In 1921 the duty was 30s., the excise 26s., and the preference 13 per cent. Although in the latter year the difference between the excise and the import duty was the same as in 1914, the percentage preference was reduced by 15 per cent.; 4s. on 14s. as against 4s. on 30s. Senator Barwell has appealed to members of the committee to act consistently with their attitude in relation to protectionist duties. He represents a State that is extensively engaged in viticulture, and he has never in this chamber raised his voice against the higher duties on wines. There is a duty on wine of 12s. 6d. a gallon in bulk, and 15s. a gallon in bottle. Senator Barwell argued that because the Australian whisky is cheaper than the imported, there is no necessity to increase the duty. If that were so, it would apply also to wine. Is not Australian champagne sold for less than the imported? AH governments, whether they be protectionist, freetrade, or revenue tariff in their views, are prone to take the line of least resistance and to tax luxuries. Great Britain is not a protectionist country, yet its duty on whisky is £3 12s. 6d. a gallon, £1 17s. 6d. a gallon greater than is imposed in Australia.

Senator Foll - Is not the British duty imposed purely for the purpose of raising revenue ?

Senator FINDLEY - It is ; but that is by the way.

Senator Foll - lt is not by the way.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - The duty is imposed in Australia allegedly for the purpose of granting protection to the Australian industry.

Senator FINDLEY - Although the British duty is imposed mainly with the object of raising revenue, it is considerably greater than that .which we impose for the purpose of granting protection to an Australian industry. The present increase of 5s. a gallon ou proof whisky represents only an additional halfpenny per nobbier on that whisky when reduced to selling strength; but either the importers alone, or in conjunction with the retailers, have increased the price to the consumer by Id. a nobbier, and in some cases by a greater amount. There has not, however, been any increase in the price of Australian whisky.

Senator Ogden - Why do the Australian manufacturers want the extra duty ?

Senator FINDLEY - Australian manufacturers have always experienced considerable difficulty in obtaining a foothold in their own market, on account of the prejudice against local manufactures. Despite the light-hearted manner in which some honorable senators treat the matter, that prejudice is real, not imaginary. Prior to the war there was in certain quarters a prejudice against Australian beer, and it was not uncommon to hear some Australians, who ought to have known better, say that the English, the German, and the American beers were very much better than the Australian.

Senator Sir Thomas Glasgow - The honorable senator knows that since the war the lighter beers have improved very much.

Senator FINDLEY - I admit that. The same remarks apply to wines. At one time there was a strong prejudice against Australian wines, but it has almost disappeared because of the encouragement given to the local producers of wines. It is admitted by those who are competent to express an opinion that Australian whisky is the purest, a-nd probably the best on the market. At the same time, there is still room for improvement, just as there is in regard to other commodities included in the schedule to the bill. It is claimed that as a result of the imposition of the increased duty on whisky, there has been a decrease in the revenue. That may or may not be correct ; but even if it be correct it does not influence me in the slightest, because I do not believe in getting revenue through the Customs House merely to avoid direct taxation. On the other hand, if it has led to a falling off in the importation of certain brands of whisky, it probably means an increase in the consumption of locally-distilled whisky. The purpose of these duties being to give encouragement to Australian industries, our object is thus being attained. We have an industry producing the best whisky in the market under the most rigid regulations in the world, and under the best labour conditions in the world. It affords employment to a large number of people.

Senator Ogden - To how many ?

Senator FINDLEY - Probably ten times as many as were employed in it a few years ago. It gives encouragement to people engaged in bottle-making. It. gives a stimulus to the producers of barley, and in a small way encourages the printing business. I venture to say that all the printed matter required by those engaged in the industry in Australia is produced by Australian workmen. When I am on a railway station I am attracted by very catchy posters beautifully printed, but I am not unmindful of the fact that some of these posters are not printed in Australia.

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