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Wednesday, 15 August 1906

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I shall support the amendment of the honorable and learned1 member for Bendigo, who is the Chairman of the Commission which was specially appointed to inquire into this matter. I say at once that if I am called upon to make a choice between the evidence which that body has collected and the opinions which have been expressed by officers of the Customs Department, I shall not have the .slightest hesitation in giving my adherence to the testimony tendered to the former upon oath. I will give the reasons why I make this, decided preference in favour of the (Commission. My experience of the high officers of the Victorian Customs Department is that they are saturated with political notions. I regret to have to make this statement, but it is nevertheless a fact. More than once the representatives from the other States have been made only too well acquainted with this unconscious bias on the part of VicQtorian officials in regard to their own industries. For instance, only to-day I saw a letter emanating from the Customs Depart:ment, and addressed to a firm in my own State, in which it' was pointed out that certain articles - the duty upon which was in dispute - were being made in Victoria, and in, which the question was asked why the firm could not obtain its supplies from this State. Is that the function of these officers - to attempt to dictate to a firm where it shall obtain its supplies? I say that it is a piece of right-down rank impertinence on the part of this Customs official.

Mr Page - Who did that ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The letter -which I saw was signed by Dr. Wollaston. It pointed out that the commodity - the duty upon which was in dispute - was made in Victoria, and inquired why the individual in question could not secure his supplies there.

Mr Page - That is pretty strong.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is about as strong as anything of which I have heard. That is the' attitude which these departmental officials assume towards many indus: trial questions. They allow their bias to colour and affect their decisions in regard to the payment of duty. For these reasons, and because of other experiences which I nave had in connexion with former discussions upon the Tariff, I do not hesitate to prefer the' opinions gathered by the Tariff Commission. It is an unfortunate circumstance that these officials should acquire unconscious bias. Above all other things, they ought not to be politicians. Thev ought to have nothing to do with the question of how the imposition of duties will affect industries. That is for this House to determine. Thev have merely to see that the revenue is protected. It is their function to endeavour to interpret the Statutes which we pass,, so far as their judgment will allow them to do so. That is one of the reasons why I unhesitatingly prefer to abide by the recommendations of the Commission. Another reason is that I believe more revenue will be collected Under a dutv of 14s. per gallon than would be received under a 15s. per gallon impost. Further, I am of opinion that a duty of 15s. per gallon would lead to adulteration, and we certainly ought not to induce that by reason of our Tariff decisions. There are three things that we ought to bear special lv in mind in dealing with the dutv upon grog. In the first place, our desire should be to insure the supply of as pure an article as possible; in the second, we should endeavour to make it as mild as we can in the interests of those who will persist in drinking it ; and lastly, we should try to derive from it as much revenue as it will honestly and legitimately yield. I believe that the ,14s. per gallon rate represents that point in connexion with the importation of ardent .spirits. So far as the fiscal aspect of the question is concerned, I decline to consider it at all. We ought not to consider it in respect of this matter, which has such a very material and moral bearing upon the welfare of the -people as a whole. There are other considerations which weigh with me. I think that the liquor trade is one of those that we -ought not to be anxious to build up in Australia from the point of view of providing employment for our people. For instance, I am told that the total number of hands engaged in' the distilleries in Victoria is 143. That number includes clerks, travellers, coopers, bottlers, and carters. In view of the small amount of labour which this industry employs, we ought not to be so seriously considering the fiscal aspect in connexion with the imposition of duties. I was surprised to learn from the Prime Minister to-day that an increase of duties will not necessarily lead to a decreased importation. That is the only conclusion which can be drawn from the attitude which has been assumed by the Government on the present occasion, and it is one which is directly opposed to the theory which they so constantly advocate, namely that if we increase the dutv upon any article we . shall keep out importations. Apparently the Government hold that that theory applies to every other article, ex- cept grog. Why it should not apply I am unable to understand, particularly when the duty proposed is of so serious a character as it is in connexion with spirits.

Mr Deakin - That is not my argument.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is the conclusion which must be drawn from the estimates which have been brought forward.

Mr Deakin - The conclusion to be drawn is that we should import a less quantity of spirits under the duty proposed by the Government, and consume a larger quantity of locally-produced spirits. Mr. Kelly. - But at a lower price.

Mr Deakin - The lesser quantity which we should import would pay1s. per gallon more.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That would not affect the consumption of locally-produced spirits in the slightest degree.

Mr Deakin - The importers would be required to pay 15s. per gallon upon a smaller import of spirits.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am quite content to leave that matter, because to my mind none of these fiscal considerations are worth pursuing. All that we should inquire into is the effect of the consumption of the grog itself, and the effect of the Government proposals upon the revenue of the country. These are the only considerations which ought to weigh with us. My own opinion - and that of the Commission - is that a duty of 15s. per gallon will mean a loss of revenue to the Commonwealth, and will not mean the importation of as much good spirit as the imposition of the lower rate would induce. I think that the more we can insure the supply of pure grog to the public the more we shall be making a stride in the direction of genuine temperance refrom. If people will drink grog - and they unfortunately continue to drink it, notwithstanding all the effort which is going on in Victoria and elsewhere - it should be our aim to insure that theliquor supplied to them shall, be of the purest possible character. I believe that a great deal of the drunkenness in the community springs from the impurity of the stuff which men pour down their throats. I am quite certain that the imposition of high duties such as those proposed by the Government will have a tendency to induce adulteration. Some time ago I met a publican who told me that he was! about to retire from the business. He was an individual with whom I used to work many years ago. I asked him the reason for his action, and he said that his rent was high, and that other considerations made it almost "impossible for him to supply the peoplewith good liquor, and that he would refuse togive them an article which he did not. regard asof good quality. The higher the duties that we impose upon spirits, the more likelihood is there that adulteration will be practised. As has been pointed out, the difference between a duty of 14s. per gallon, and one of 15s. per gallon upon imported spirits; may mean a difference of 2s. per gallon to the individual who sells them. Thepublic will still desire to obtainthe samequantity of liquor for the same amount of money, and consequently the publican, to make the profit which he has hitherto made, will be tempted to adulterate it.

Mr Deakin - With water?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If a publicandilutes with water the grog which he offers. for sale, he is prosecuted for making it" more harmless than it would otherwise be.

Mr Hughes - Evidently that is a bads law.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is, atall events, the law in New South Wales. Men. are constantly being prosecuted for simply watering spirits offered by them for sale.

Mr Hughes - For trying to " do good by stealth."

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If spirits are tobe diluted it would seem that something: more harmful than water must be used, and that in all probability in such circumstances adulteration must take place. Theaim of all our legislation should be to cut down adulterationto a minimum, and asfar as possible to abolish it. In this connexion, I think that the inquiries of theCommissionmay have a good result. They propose, for instance, to set up a certificated standard of pure Australian brandy and whisky. These spirits are to subscribeto the chemical test, which they consider ought to be made in a prescribed way, and' which will presumably result in the production of as pure a spirit as human ingenuity can devise. As far as they go inthat direction the Commission are on right lines. If we could induce the people todrink pure instead of adulterated grog we should be taking a step in the directionof temperance.

Mr Hughes - Are not more peoplelikely to drink spirits if their purity beinsured ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No. I am told that blended grog is more largely consumed than is pure spirit - that grog is blended to hit the public taste.

Mr Webster - The palate is developed bv blending.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That mav be; but whether the taste to which this blending ministers is an acquired or a natural one I am not in a position to say.

Mr Hughes - I was speaking of adulteration as opposed to blending. I understand "blending" to mean the mixing of spirits distilled in two different ways.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We have the statement made yesterday by Mr. Joshua that very little pure brandy is drunk in Australia.

Mr Hughes - Verv little pure grape brandy

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The people ask for blended brandy.

Mr Watson - They do not ask for it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Mr. Joshuasays that he makes brandy from other things than go to make pure wine brandy.. I understand that he largely uses molasses and a mixture of other things, and that he rectifies his spirit, and makes it something that is certainly not pure wine spirit. I am told again that so-called pure grape brandy is not in itself anything like a pure spirit - that certain ingredients are retained which in themselves are not beneficial, but add a flavour to the standard brandy. I am bound to say that I sit at the feet of the Chairman of the Commission. He tells us that after fifteen months spent in making a strict and close inquiry into the whole process of the manufacture of Australian and other spirits, the Commission, have come to the conclusion that an import duty of 14s. per gallon is as much as the trade can bear, consistently with providing a pure article for consumption. Believing that. I shall vote with him when we proceed to decide this question. The Prime Minister stated that in New Zealand an import duty of 16s. per gallon is operating to-day. I understand, however, that there is no local distillation there.

Mr Deakin - None.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is no local distillation, except that which, per haps, is carried on illicitly. It is said that prohibition leads to a certain amount of illicit distillation, but on that question I am not competent to express an opinion.

The result of the use of adulterants in this trade is doubtless much like that which follow* the adulteration of other articles. If, for instance, the coinage of a country be debased, the inferior article usually drives out the superior one.

Mr Hughes - I do not think that the same law holds.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It seems to operate on the same plane. If the people can obtain an inferior article at a very much cheaper rate than that at which a superior article is offered, there is a tendency for the inferior to drive the superior article out of the market. That is the position with regard to many things, and it seems to me that the remark will apply te spirit. Inferior spirit would seem to be able to drive superior spirit out of the market. It is more easily and cheaply produced, and can be so blended as to hit the popular taste. But I was going to point out that in New Zealand there ls no' locally produced spirit to compete against the imported article; consequently, as they have to rely upon imports for the whole of their requirements, the people must pay the dutv of1 16s. per gallon, or go without their supplies. All the evidence we can obtain shows that if the import duties go beyond a certain point in countries where spirits are distilled, inferior local distillations creep in and drive the superior article out of . the market. That is made very clear in the report ot the Royal Commission which was appointed when the right honorable member for Balaclava was Premier of Victoria. That Commission pointed out, as the Prime Minister has said, that the depression which then existed was largely responsible for the falling away of the revenue of Victoria, but that there was something' more -

We regret to say that we regard the fact to be proved that a very inferior quality of spirit is vended, and that this state of things has been fostered by the high duties.

It would therefore appear that, in this respect, spirits are like many other things - the moment one begins to debase them that moment the inferior article becomes popular, and tends to some extent to take the place of the superior one. I am not going to pursue this question further. We have already devoted a day and a half to its consideration, and we ought to be able verv soon to make up our minds with respect to the import duty to be' imposed. I should like to hear from the Prime Minister whether the Government have any further proposal to make in the way of a modification of- the schedule. Has the honorable gentleman any proposal to make as affecting the excise duty ?

Mr Deakin - One proposal.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Such a proposal unless it referred only to the relation which blended spirit bears under the Excise duties to pure spirit, might affect the question of the import duties to be imposed. I do not know whether the Minister intends to deal with that matter.

Mr Deakin - There is one proposal only.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It perhaps would not affect to any appreciable extent the question of the 'import duty.

Mr Deakin - I think not. ,

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It might affect the question, since if a difference were made in the Excise duty on blended spirit it would establish a different relation between the Excise duty and the import duty on that article. Therefore, the two questions are to some extent interwoven. I thought that the Prime Minister would to-day bring down the further proposals of the Government, so that the Committee would know exactly what they were before being called upon to decide any of these questions. I still think that it would be preferable to have the whole of the facts before us before we are asked to decide any of these " questions.

Mr Watkins - We should have all the facts before us before we are asked to vote on any of these questions.

Mr Deakin - I am quite willing.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It would help the Committee to make up its mind.

Mr Hughes - The Minister of Trade and Customs, on his return from Corowa, may have some further information to lay before us. That is usually the result of his tours.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so. The honorable gentleman's week-end perambulations in South Australia seem to have considerably modified his opinions, and possibly when he returns from Corowa and other wine-producing districts, he will have further modifications to propose. Although the honorable gentleman has shown that he is susceptible to some change in his opinions concerning these matters, he has not stayed here to give us the benefit of his altered views. He said that there was something wrong, and by way of interjection 'declared that he thought there was " Too much Joshua" about the proposal of the Commission. But, having made that statement, he betook himself from the Chamber, leaving the Prime Minister to bear the brunt of the whole proceedings. As I said yesterday, the action of the Minister in leaving the Chamber when proposals of this kind are under consideration is most reprehensible. I certainly think it is extraordinary that any Government should treat as lightly as the present Ministry appear to b-i doing, the recommendations and findings of the Commission. If there be . any serious blot on the findings of the Commission - if there are any serious amendments to propose - it would be only an act of courtesy on the part of the Government to ask the Commission to give further consideration to its recommendations. That would be a courteous way of treating the Commission. It has not yet been disbanded, and I suppose that its members would not close their minds to the reception of further evidence placed before them for consideration. If it is thought that their proposals should be drastically amended, they should be given an opportunity to reconsider them. The only further knowledge available seems to be the statement of the Customs officers, whose tendency is too- much to consider local industries, instead of giving impartial reports such as should' emanate from high officials who have no concern with party politics. For the reasons which I have given, I prefer the recommendations of the Commission to those of the Customs officials. The experience available for our guidance shows that the higher the import duties are made, the greater are the temptations placed in the way of the adulteraters and blenders of liquors. Our aim should be to obtain the most revenue we can from the duties on spirits and similar luxuries, and to make it as difficult as possible for those connected with their distribution to do wrong. In my judgment, the increasing of the import duty will offer a distinct temptation to the adulteration of liquor, and will not increase the revenue. I shall, therefore, vote for the amendment.

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