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Wednesday, 2 June 1926

Senator McLACHLAN (South Aus tralia) . - As I understand the position, we have upon the Tariff Board gentlemen in whom this and the sister chamber have every confidence. From the report of that body I have not been able to glean any information which convinces me that it is necessary to impose a higher duty on imported whisky. I largely adopt the arguments that have been used by Senator Foll. The Minister (Senator Crawford) has burnt his boats. He has informed us that the increase is proposed with the object of giving protection to the Australian industry. Apart from the information that Senator Ogden has furnished, we do not know the number of employees engaged in this industry, where it operates, or the quantity of primary produce that is involved. Having regard to the figures that have been made available, I should be lacking in my duty if I were to vote for the additional duty. The Minister suggested that three distilleries had been closed down. That is the type of closing down that we frequently have in matters of this sort. Senator Ogden's statements appear to me to warrant our sending this matter back to the Tariff Board for further investigation before we cast a vote upon it. It is not that we have any complaint to make against the chemical properties of the Australian whisky. As a young man I took partin the defence of a chemist, who was accused of having sold vinegar that did not answer to the standard of malt vinegar. We proved that, although it was acetic acid vinegar, chemically it answered the standard of malt vinegar. But who would use acetic acid vinegar instead of malt vinegar ? Whatever chemical tests whisky may be subjected to, I can subject it only to the test of public opinion. What is it that the people of this country desire? The Minister and supporters of the Government have shown that the price of Australian whisky is lower per nobbier, per gallon, and wholesale, than the price of imported whisky; yet the public of Australia will not accept it! Surely the public is the best judge of what is good for it?

Senator Reid - Could not the same argument be used in respect to South Australian wines?

Senator McLACHLAN - South Australian wines only need to be known to be taken. I point out to those honorable senators who speak so glibly of South Australian wines that I have never voted either for or against a duty on wine. In any case, wine is in an entirely different category from whisky, the manufacture of which in Australia is an artificial industry. Wine is one of the natural products of this country. Rightly or wrongly, the Australian public will not drink the local whisky.

Senator Thompson - But it will drink local wines.

Senator McLACHLAN - That is so. We have not exported any whisky, but we have exported a certain quantity of wine.

Senator Crawford - With the aid of a bounty.

Senator McLACHLAN - Quite so. Senator Elliott has given us the assurance that the price of Australian whisky will not be raised. I endeavoured to puncture a similar argument, which was put forward by one of my Tasmanian friends in relation to the price of timber. We are not here to make bargains. As business men we must apply our minds to any matter that comes before us. According to Senator Ogden there has recently been an amalgamation of interests for the purpose of controlling the manufacture of whisky in Australia. I understand from the Minister that there are only four whisky distilleries in Australia. Shares have been allotted to the various interests that have amalgamated. Despite the fact that the Australian article is being sold at a lower price than the imported, we are asked to increase the duty on the latter. The inevitable result will be an increase in the price of Australian whisky, if the duty is sufficiently high to keep out the imported article. I predict that that will never happen, and that we shall merely be penalizing the consumer. We should have placed before us facts and figures justifying the proposed increase. We have been inundated with correspondence from both the Federal Distilleries and the representatives of the importers. The argument advanced in favour of the increase is that it is necessary for protective reasons. No such case has been made out by either the Government or the Tariff Board. I shall support Senator Grant's request.

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