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Wednesday, 26 October 1904

Mr HUTCHISON (Hindmarsh) - I thoroughly agree with the honorable and learned member for Ballarat that if we could acquire a large increase in our population it would do much to expand our revenue. It is an unfortunate circumstance that at the present time we have an army of unemployed throughout the Commonwealth. Before we attempt to increase our population by the introduction of immigrants from Europe it would be well for us to devise a scheme to provide our own people with employment. Unfortunately, we are not able to do as much in that direction - in the direction of closer settlement - as are the States Parliaments. But I wish particularly to deal with a matter relating to the financial question. It is a matter of very great importance, affecting as it does, not only the revenue, but the people of the Commonwealth. It is one to which I would specially direct the attention of the Minister of Trade and Customs, as I' understand that some correspondence has taken place between the South Australian Government and his Department upon the subject. As he is aware, spirits are being imported into the Commonwealth in bulk and bottled locally. It has been stated by the Customs Department that there is no objection to foreign firms appointing local agents for the pur- pose of bottling imported spirits. But I understand that large quantities of spirits are being imported into South Australia and the other States by local merchants, and sold by the same merchants, who thus secure all the profits. Under such circumstances, these persons cannot truthfully be. designated as agents. But I wish particularly to -direct attention to the fact that these merchants are alleged to import the labels, corks, and capsules of well-known brands of foreign spirits, which are consumed locally.

Sir George Turner - We cannot control these spirits after they pass out of the hands of the Customs Department.

Mr HUTCHISON - I wish to show that the control of the Customs Department does not cease with the payment of the duties levied upon these spirits. It is possible for a local merchant to secure these labels, corks, and1 capsules, because they do a large business with the firms in question, and the latter dare not refuse to supply them with the articles I have mentioned. Imported spirits pay a duty of 14s. per proof gallon. They are then diluted to 23 per cent, under proof, so that in reality they pay only a duty of ns. per gallon. But there is nothing to prevent local merchants from blending the imported spirits with the local spirits, which pay only ns. per gallon. When the locally-made spirit is reduced to 23 per cent, under proof, it has the effect of reducing the duty to about 8s. 6d. per gallon. Owing to the enormous profits to be made by acting in this way, there is a great temptation to merchants. I am quite satisfied that to a large extent the revenue is thus being defrauded. Thus the buyer of these spirits is deceived, and the consumer is not only cheated, but incurs great risk of being poisoned.

Sir John Quick - That is an offence against the State law, and is punishable as such.

Mr HUTCHISON - The reply of the Customs authorities is that it is entirely a State matter. I hope to prove, however, that it is a Commonwealth matter. If the Minister will look at section 52 of the Customs Act he will find a list of prohibited imports. Sub-section g of that section makes provision for all goods the importation of which may be prohibited by proclamation. I maintain that it is within the power of the Government to proclaim that certain labels and capsules shall not be imported into the Commonwealth.

Sir George Turner - In that case they would be printed here, and we should be no better off.

Mr HUTCHISON - If a fear is entertained that the labels will be printed here, and the same fraud committed upon a revenue which is unfortunately shrinking, it is high time we insisted that all imported bulk spirits should be bottled only in bond. Further, we ought to compel the local merchants to certify on the labels that the spirits which they contain were so bottled, and the name of the State in which the bottling took place. This is rather an important matter, not only from the revenue stand-point, but from the stand-point of the general public. It is one in which the Government of South Australia had a right to receive much greater assistance from the Customs Department than it has been afforded. I trust that the Minister will see whether he cannot afford better protection to the public and the revenue in the future.

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