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Tuesday, 14 August 1906

Mr WATSON (Bland) .- The honorable and learned member for Parkes has, to my mind, advanced rather a novel idea in respect of the work of Royal Commissions. I do not know whether he intended to go so far, but the plain inference to be drawn from his statement, was that we must accept holus bolus the decisions of Royal Commissions.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I repudiated that idea.

Mr WATSON - I can draw no other conclusion from the statements of the honorable and learned member. If he did not mean that, it seems to me that his speech was merely a beating of the air. I have as keen an appreciation of the work of the Tariff Commission as has any honorable member. I recognise that the gentlemen comprising that body have made a great number of sacrifices in performing the immense work which they have accomplished. But the value of their labours consists in a very large measure in the information which they have been able to put before the public through the evidence which has been tendered, and does not rest entirely upon the conclusions at which they have arrived. That is so in regard to all Royal Commissions. Their main object is to get information, and while I confess that much may occasionally be learned from the demeanour of witnesses - and that therefore the Commissioners are best able to judge of the conclusions which should be drawn from the testimony of witnesses - still it does not follow that they are right in every case.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But the point of view of the consumers has to be considered.

Mr WATSON - The Commission have considered this question from every point of view. But I refuse to believe that they have come to an accurate decision in every instance. In my view it is utterly ridiculous to extend almost the same measure of protection to blended spirits as it is proposed to extend to spirits which are made from pure grape wine.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member approve of the Minister inviting interested parties to give evidence to him after they have given their testimony to the Tariff Commission?

Mr WATSON - I see absolutely no harm in such a procedure. Anything which is done in the light of day in the way of inviting those who are interested in conclusions which may affect their businesses to a large extent, cannot possibly injure the State.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Whilst there is a Ministerial tribunal in existence? The Government appointed the Tariff Commission specially to hear that evidence.

Mr WATSON - But that tribunal has concluded its labours so far as the question of the duties upon spirits is concerned. It has reported, and consequently has ceased to have any further responsibility. The witnesses had no opportunity of commenting upon the conclusions of the Commission until they were invited to do so. The recommendation to which I have referred is- in itself a sufficient justification for further inquiries being made.


Mr WATSON - By the Minister.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But the Tariff Commission is still in existence.

Mr WATSON - It has finally dealt with this particular matter. The honorable member seems to be oblivious of that fact. When once the Commission has reported, its members have nothing further to do with this question. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo, as Chairman of the Commission, stated in reply to a gentleman who wished to give further evidence in regard to its conclusions that the matter had now passed out of the hands of that body. The small distinction which has been made between the duty upon brandy produced from grape spirit, and that upon blended brandy is in itself an evidence that the Commission has not sufficiently appreciated the difference between the cost of the materials from which these two classes of spirits are distilled.

Mr Fowler - The Commission - besides the revenue aspect of the question - took other matters into consideration, and has proposed to give a Commonwealth guarantee of the purity of spirits. Surely that is worth a good deal. '

Mr WATSON - It is ; but it does not happen to touch the particular point to which I am addressing myself. The Com. mission recommend that a protection of 4s. per gallon shall be granted to pure brandy, and of 3s. per gallon to blended brandy. The difference between the cost of the materials from which these two classes of spirit are made is so great that the margin between the two rates of duty is, to my mind, insufficient. No doubt, it is a matter upon which there is room for a legitimate difference of opinion.

Sir John Quick - The honorable and learned member for Angas has introduced evidence which was not given before the Tariff Commission.

Mr WATSON - I regret to say that I was not able to follow the remarks qf the honorable and learned member for Angas as closely as they deserved to be followed.) ]n deference to the suggestion of the Prime Minister, I wish' to withdraw my amendment, and to substitute for it a proposal in terms more nearly in consonance with the report of the Tariff .Commission. My only reason for submitting the original amendment was that there seemed to be no indication - at that ' stage of the proceedings - of a desire to impose any condition in regard to the age of imported spirits.

Mr Fisher - The Opposition was satisfied, I suppose.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We were relying upon the statement of the Minister of Trade and Customs that he would bring down "a set of amendments to-morrow.

Mr WATSON - Nobody seemed inclined to rise when I did, and I submitted the amendment with a view to securing something tangible.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The resolution has not yet been put by the Minister in its final form.

Mr WATSON - That remark applies only to the Excise duties. The Minister has given no intimation that he intends to niter the import duties. I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment (by Mr. Watson) proposed -

That after the word " proof," line 16. the words " and when more than two years shall have elapsed, either from the date of their first shipment or from the date of their distillation " be inserted.

Mr Deakin - That is practically the phraseology 4 of the Tariff Commission's recommendation .

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