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Wednesday, 15 August 1906

Mr FULLER (Illawarra) .- The proposal of the Government that the import duty on spirits shall be increased to 15s. per gallon has been put forward on the ground that it is necessary from the stand-point of the Treasury. It has been pointed out by the Prime Minister that, after the sudden disappearance of the Minister of Trade and Customs, he caused inquiries to be made by competent officers, with the result that they arrived at the conclusion that the Government proposition is one which, because of revenue considerations, should be adopted. I did not have an opportunity to hear the speech delivered by the Prime Minister, but I gather that he failed to put before the Committee the grounds upon which these officers arrived at the conclusion that if the proposition of the Tariff Commission, that a duty of 14s. per gallon be imposed, were adopted, it would result in a loss of revenue. It must be patent to any one having a fair knowledge of this question that when the duty on spirits is increased from 14s. per gallon to 15s. per gallon, it becomes, not a revenue, but a protective one. From that point of view, I can understand such a proposal as that emanating from the Minister of Trade and Customs, as the representative of a protectionist Administration.

Sir John Forrest - Does a difference of is. per gallon convert a revenue duty into a protective one ?

Mr FULLER - I think that it does. The honorable member for Wentworth has quoted statistics showing that the result of an increase in the spirit duties imposed under the Victorian Tariff was an immediate reduction in the revenue. We may reasonably expect 'that if the Government proposal be adopted there will be a reduction of revenue, and that the duty will have a protective incidence. Since it appears that the Government have not proved their case, and as the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, as representing the Commission, has moved that the duty Le 14s. per' gallon, I think that honorable members would 'be well advised in voting for the amendment. The Government have been, referred! to more than once during this debate as the custodians of. the revenue, but thev have failed to put before the Committee any satisfactory reasons for their proposal from that stand-point. All that they tell us is that, " Having referred this question to competent officers, we have arrived at certain, conclusions." They have given the Commission and honorable members generally no opportunity to examine the grounds on which that decision is based. 'We know that the effect of an increase in the import dutv on spirits under the Victorian Tariff was to decrease, not to increase the revenue, and that being so, I appeal to the Committee to support the amendment. It is also clear that high duties have a strong tendency to lead to the introduction of spirits of an inferior character. A consideration for the health of the general public is one of the principles on which the recommendations of the Commission are based: We came to the conclusion1 that a duty of 14s. per gallon was the highest that could be recommended, consistently with a desire to conserve the revenue, and to secure the sale of as good a liquor as possible. Whit is the great Australian industry which it is said would' be built up by this increased duty? It has been pointed out that labour is a very small factor in the distilling industry. I have not the exact figures by me, but I know that the proportion of the labour to the output is the smallest that any of the great industries of Australia show. Mr. Joshua, when giving sworn evidence before the Tariff Commission, distinctly admitted that the distilling industry would have but little effect on the farming industry. It has been said that if this industry were successfully established it would be of immense benefit to the farming community, but even if the whole of the spirit consumed in Australia were made out of the products of our farmers, the effect of the industry upon the farming community would be so small as to be hardly worthy of consideration. Other cognate trades in connexion with the distilling "industry have also been mentioned, but, viewing this matter from even the stand-point of the protectionists, I hold that the industry gives so little employment, and is of such small moment to the farming interests of Australia that it is not worth so big a price as we are asked to pay for it. Having gone fully into this question, I would strongly recommend the Committee, in the absence of the information which we are entitled to expect from the Government as to the grounds on which they have based their conclusions, to vote for the amendment.

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