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Thursday, 16 August 1906

Mr FISHER (Wide Bay) .- It is evident that a number of honorable members who have taken part in the discussion have not known exactly what is before the Chair. The Committee has agreed to two rates of duties, which give complete protection to grape growers and wine makers, and I object to the attempt which is now being made to prevent molasses spirit from being used for blending purposes in the same way as grain spirit.It has been argued that molasses spirit should be excluded, because it is cheap, but, on the other hand, spirits distilled from other materials than grain, which are equally as dear as grain spirit, havealso been excluded. The proposal cannot be defended on the ground of protection, because the quantity of grain used for the distillation of spirit is so small that its production cannot give employment to any large number of persons, and it seems to me that it is not a good reason" for objecting to the use of a certain spirit to say that it is cheap. No one has been able to assert that spirit distilled from molasses is injurious.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Honorable members have allowed that to be inferred.

Mr FISHER - It can be inferred from the proposal of the Government. The member's of the Tariff Commission, however, make no such statement. They were prepared to allow blended brandy to be distilled partly from grape wine and partly from other materials, recognising that provision would be made for the production of a pure wine brandy. I agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh that pure brandy should be distilled wholly from grapes, but we are dealing now,not with pure brandy, but with a blended brandy. I apologise to the honorable member for Coolgardie if I hurt his feelings by the words I used.

Mr Mahon - The honorable member has not yet told us why we should give the same protection to a spirit costing 6d. per gallon as to one costing 3s. 2d.

Mr FISHER - If honorable members say that molasses spirit is excellent, but must not be used because it can be produced too cheaply, and thereby imply that the public can get a good article for too little, there is no more to be said. The -honorable member for Bland took up the right attitude in regard to this matter.I have shown that the farming industry will not benefit materially by this provision in regard to the use of grain spirit. Why should we sacrifice revenue in order to maintain an industry in support of which nothing has yet been said. I should like to ask the protectionist members of the House whether, after having fostered an industry under our Tariff, we should, during a period in which we are pledged to observe fiscal peace, alter the duties in such a way as to destroy it.

Mr.McCay. - The duty upon molasses spirit remains unaltered.

Mr FISHER - The honorable member is quite correct, but his legal mind has caused him to ignore the fact that if a special preference be given to manufacturers of other classes of spirit the competitive relations between them and the distillers of molasses spirit will undergo a complete change. The proportional relationship will he altered, even though the duly upon molasses spirit may be retained. I would again direct the attention of honorable members to the figures which I quoted last night. These show that die distilling industry in New South Wales which did not exist before the introduction of the Tariff has grown to such an extent that 655,531 gallons of spirits have been produced up to the present time. The honorable member for Echuca is quite prepared to wipe out this industry.

Mr McColl - No; but I would put it" in its proper place.

Mr FISHER - That would be equivalent to wiping it out of existence, because the honorable member said that molasses spirit should not be used.

Mr McColl - I did not say that.

Mr FISHER - The honorable member stated that it should not be allowed to come into competition with other spirit, such as grain spirit.

Mr McColl - Not upon the same footing, for the reason that grain spirit costs ss. 6d. per gallon, whilst molasses spirit can be produced for 3d. per gallon.

Mr FISHER - The honorable member did not argue for one moment that spirit made from molasses was worse than that produced from any other commodity apart from wine.

Mr McColl - I did not discuss that point at all.

Mr FISHER - Does the honorable member contend that because molasses spirit is cheap and good it should not be' used for blending with wine spirit?

Mr McColl - I do not think it should be so used.

Mr Fowler - It is because it is cheap that it is used by the vignerons.

Mr FISHER - It is the duty of the Government to conserve the revenue, and I maintain that if a good spirit cap be cheaplyproduced we should subject it to a higher duty when it is blended with something else. If it could be shown that molasses spirit was bad I should have nothing whatever to say in favour of it. But, if the only- objection that can be urged is that it is cheap, I contend that permission should be given to use it for blending purposes, and tha.t a higher duty should be charged in order that the Government and the public might derive the benefit.

Mr McCay - There is nothing in these proposals to prevent molasses spirit from being used for blending purposes. The honorable member is asking for the verything that is provided for in the scheme.

Mr FISHER - Does the honorable and learned member contend that there is nothing to prevent molasses from being used in the composition of blended grain . brandy ?

Mr McCay - - The honorable member is now speaking of spirit which is subject to a certain rate of duty.

Mr FISHER - My contention is that grain spirit is not better in quality or more wholesome than is molasses spirit.

Mr Batchelor - No one said it was.

Mr FISHER - Then I argue that it is the duty of the Government to protect the revenue by imposing a higher duty upon molasses spirit when used for blending purposes, and' not to preclude manufacturers from using it in that way. The amount of grain that would be used for distillation purposes would not be very great, and no appreciable benefit would be conferred upon the farmers by the encouragement of distillation from grain. The Government propose to throw away revenue for a mere idea. T would not object to the proposed Excise duty being increased to 13s., if the cheaper spirits were allowed to be used for blending purposes under paragraph 3.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - - -Does the honorable member know that grain spirit costs 2s. 3d. per gallon as compared with molasses spirit, which costs only from 6d. to is. per gallon.

Mr FISHER - Yes, I am perfectly aware of that ; but I contend that grain spirit distillation is not an industry, and that it is proposed to throw away revenue for an idea.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member is talking about the quality of the grog, whereas I am thinking about the revenue.

Mr FISHER - My desire is to protect the revenue. I am quite willing that the duty should be increased to 13s., if any spirit is allowed to be used for blending purposes. The Tariff Commission, after a thorough inquiry into the matter, came to the conclusion that blended brandy should be composed partly of spirit distilled from grape wine, and partly of spirit distilled from other materials. THat is their idea of blended brandy.

Mr Hutchison - The Commission, in their report, mentioned ' 1 other approved materials."

Mr FISHER - If molasses spirit, or any other commodity, is not approved, I shall have nothing further to say about it.

If molasses spirit is bad, it should not be used for blending purposes. The same argument would apply to any other kind of spirit. I am not fighting in the interests of molasses spirit in particular, but when we find that an industry has grown up under the Tariff, not only in Queensland, but in New South Wales, we should not impose differential duties that would have an injurious effect upon it, when no particular purpose, and certainly no purpose of high policy, is to be served. It seems to me that the Government are manoeuvring to prevent cheap and good spirit from taking the place of grain spirit, although the manufacture of the latter, even upon a large scale, would not be of any assistance to the farmers. I am quite prepared to agree to the addition of another shilling to the duty if molasses and other approved spirits are allowed to be used in making blended brandy.

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