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Tuesday, 28 August 1906

Mr HUTCHISON (Hindmarsh) . - I am glad that the Minister has inserted in the Bill a provision which imposes a penalty on any person who may sell or has in his possession illicit methylated spirits, orany article of food or drink, or any scent, essence, tincture, or medicine, containing methylated spirits; but I should like to know whether such a provision can be enforced if enacted by Farliament. If it can, we have power to pass similar enactments in regard to other spirit. On the 7 th March last, to quote from a newspaper report of the meeting of the Adelaide Central Board of Health -

Messrs. W. P. Auld and Sons forwarded sample of whisky which had been purchased by them at the Agricultural Show ground. The whisky was in a bottle labelled " Buchanan's House of Commons whisky." The writers had no hesitation in pronouncing the spirit to be South Australian spirit made from grapes. It was pointed out that there was a great deal of this false trading being carried on in and around Adelaide, and the board's co-operation was asked for in endeavouring to put an end to such a " disgraceful practice." To be informed that the board had for some )'ears been cognizant of the practice of selling colonial spirit as imported, but on account of the importation of bulk spirit, capsules, corks, and labels, by some importers, and the legal difficulties that had arisen in connexion with prosecutions by this board, under present legislation, the board felt unable to take any useful action in the matter.

I referred to this matter here about three years ago, suggesting that the Minister should, under section 51 of the Customs Act, prohibit the importation of capsules and labels. It was objected that if their importation was prohibited, they would be made and printed here; but I pointed out that if that were made an offence, the fear of detection would act -as a deterrent, and suggested that it might be made compulsory to bottle imported spirit in bond. If that were done, it would prevent good spirit from being blended with cheap spirit, on which a lesser duty had been paid. I could not, however, persuade the Government to do anything in the matter, and, therefore, bring it under the attention of the Minister once more. Again and again in the South Australian Courts have cases been brought for the sale of spirit under proof; but it has been held that once spirit has passed through the Customs, the Commonwealth Government cannot interfere with its sale. The question has been raised before the Full Court of South Australia, whose judgment is given in the following report : -

In the Full Court judgment was delivered by Mr. Justice Gordon and Mr. Justice Homburg in Robinson versus Hall, which was a special case reserved by the Police Court of Adelaide with respect to the sale of liquors under a certain degree of proof strength The results of the judgments suggest that the law is in an unsatisfactory state, from the public point of view. There are at present two statutes in existence which deal with the question of the sale of liquor under proof. Both judges held that the State law could not be enforced because the only person who could lay informations under it was the State Collector of Customs, whose office had been abolished by the establishment of the Commonwealth. Mr. Justice Homburg, however, went further than this, and gave expression to the startling decision that in legislating with regard to the sale of spirits within the State, the Commonwealth had exceeded its powers under the Constitution, and therefore that part of the Commonwealth Act which dealt with this matter is invalid. The effect of the decision of the Full Court is that the State law cannot be enforced, and that the Commonwealth law dealing with this matter is invalid. In these circumstances, it appears that there are no provisions of any Distillation Act which govern and regulate the strength at which spirits are to be sold to the public in South Australia.

Mr Kennedy - There must be a defect in the South Australian law, because in this State such cases are dealt with under the Victorian law.

Mr HUTCHISON - I take it that the Victorian Judges_would be in accord with the South Australian Full Court.

Mr Kennedy - But the prosecutions are not proceeded with under a Commonwealth Act.

Mr HUTCHISON - In the report from which I have quoted it is stated that the Commonwealth Parliament has exceeded its constitutional powers, and its legislation, therefore, is invalid, while it is also held that the State law cannot be enforced.

Sir John Quick - That appears to be because there is no officer to prosecute, a difficulty which could be got over.

Mr Kennedy - Under the Victorian licensing law an inspector prosecutes, and it is not unusual for fines to be recovered for the sale of spirit more- than a certain number of degrees under proof.

Mr HUTCHISON - I am very glad to hear that it is so.

Mr Kennedy - The Commonwealth Parliament cannot deal with this matter.

Mr HUTCHISON - It seems to me that if we have power to prohibit the sale of methylated spirit in the "manner provided for in clause 15, we have power to make laws relating to the importation and subsequent adulteration of bulk spirit.

Sir William Lyne - I do not think so.

Mr HUTCHISON - In many cases, there is no control once spirit has passed through the Customs House. Consequently good spirit is often adulterated with poor spirit, on which less duty has been paid, so that the Commonwealth loses revenue, and the public is supplied with an article which is not much better than poison. I should like the Minister to explain how he intends to enforce his provision.

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