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Thursday, 15 November 1973
Page: 1854

Senator COTTON (New South Wales) - This is a fascinating excercise in not knowing where one is at any given point of time in the management scale which we have operating in this chamber at the present time. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) who is sitting on that comfortable chair would know better than most people what I am talking about. We are discussing here a series of orders of the day. Order of the day No. 1 is being set to one side because, as I understand the facts of life, it attaches to order of the day No. 1 5. It would be far more appropriate and sensible, therefore, if the notice paper were to put the Bills in such an order that those which are to be conjoined appear in reasonable proximity to each other. We are currently considering order of the day No. 2, the Excise Bill (No. 3) 1973, order of the day No. 3, the Customs Tariff Bill 1973, order of the day No. 4, the Diesel Fuel Tax Bill (No. 1) 1973, Order of the day No. 5, the Diesel Fuel Tax Bill (No. 2) 1973, and order of the day No. 6, the Excise Bill (No. 2) 1973. 1 will be looking at those Bills in very brief style and my learned friend from South Australia, Senator Laucke, will be taking care of the Wine Overseas Marketing Bill 1973 and the Wine Grapes Charges Bill 1973. The honourable senator has a particular interest in those matters.

Therefore I will refer to orders of the day Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 as being taken conjointly and in one debate. I need to take a little time to look at these measures as I go through. The Excise Tariff Bill (No. 3) which is order of the day No. 2, gives effect on and after 8 o'clock on the evening of 2 1 August to the Government's Budget measures which increase the excise duties on potable spirits, manufactured tobacco products and refined petroleum products. A summary of the changes has been circulated. At the outset I must say once again, as I have said on previous occasions in this Senate both as a Minister responding for the Minister for Customs and Excise and as an Opposition senator listening to arguments advanced during debates on customs matters, that one must compliment the Department of Customs and Excise for the most workmanlike way in which it brings its material forward. One gets the second reading speech; one gets a note on the clauses; one gets a summary of the proposals. All of these things are put together. I believe that many other departments could well copy this procedure with advantage to themselves and to the honourable senators who deal with these matters in this place.

Clause 1 of Excise Tariff Bill (No. 3) gives the title and the citation of the Bill. Clause 2 gives the date of commencement. Therefore we are disposing of a matter to finality in the Senate. On 15 November we are dealing with a matter which relates to 21 August 1973. One presumes that in the collection of the additional revenue these matters will be backdated to the point of time. Clause 3 of the Bill amends the Schedule to the principal Act in accordance with the Schedule to the Bill. Clause 4 provides for excise duty to be imposed on goods falling within the excise tariff and the items that are specified when they are manufactured or produced in Australia on or after the hour of 8 o'clock in the evening of 21 August 1973, using standard Australian Capital Territory time, or were manufactured or produced in Australia before that time, being goods which at that time are subject to the control of the customs or to excise supervision or are in the stock or in the custody of a manufacturer. One ought to observe that we are dealing nearly 2 months later with matters which are consequential in their revenue collecting scales as at 2 1 August 1973. One could make a nice argument that no one is due to pay any duty or excise on products manufactured after 21 August to this date because the Senate has not ratified the Bill and therefore it is not law. I do not think the Senate wants to take that nit picking attitude, except to observe that it is an untidy way of going about things.

The next item on the notice paper is the Customs Tariff Bill. It provides for increases in customs and tariff rates and is complementary to the Excise Tariff Bill (No. 3) which I have just been discussing. It gives effect to the Government's Budget proposals in relation to spirituous beverages, tobacco products and certain refined petroleum products. It has been observed before by honourable senators here in the Opposition that it is the Government's job to raise the revenue for the purpose of Government expenditure proposals. This Government sought to raise revenue on a very wide variety of changes and increases in the whole revenue scale. There were about 65 of them. The Government had available to it 2 alternative courses to that, namely, to spend less money totally or to alter in some way the tax scale. The Government was in some difficulty, having promised not to increase taxation. Yet at the same time having increased expenditure very substantially it had to find revenue by means of all kinds of devices, and this is one of the devices. So it is proposed to increase the rates charged on spirituous beverages, tobacco products and certain refined petroleum products.

The schedule refers in great detail to spirits, brandy, whisky, rum, my favourite drink, and many others. I do not intend to go into great detail in this regard except to observe in general that it is not the Opposition's proposal to set the revenue to one side, although I understand that the Government itself has some proposals to alter its own revenue raising arrangements compared with what it originally set out to do. This could well produce a consequential situation in the Senate in which many of the revenue items which we had said previously ought to be regarded as part of the total revenue will have to be examined far more critically in the light of the fact that the Government has decided to alter some of its revenue schemes and not others. That is a matter which gives rise to very great concern amongst honourable senators in the Opposition. In the end, if the Government is to decrease its revenue it has to have alternatives to that situation. What is it going to do? Perhaps in due course, the Minister may care to tell us.

When we look at Diesel Fuel Tax Bill (No. 2), we are in the same situation as pertains to Diesel Fuel Tax Bill (No. 1 ). Both Bills make changes in the raising of revenue by altering the rate of tax on diesel fuel. Both Bills are justified in that area. Then, we have the Excise Bill (No. 2) which alters the basis of measurement for the dutiable contents on kilderkins, half-hogsheads, barrels and hogsheads. Those dutiable content rates were fixed at a time when all hog beer vessels were hand make of wood and the prescribed dutiable content reflected the average spills at that time. There has been a change in the method of container usage. Wood has largely been replaced by stainless steel vessels. These are far more precise in their measuring capacity. Therefore, there is a change in the general measurement scale between the old wooden barrel and the new stainless steel barrel system.

The stainless steel barrel system has been under observation for quite some time. Because of the unfortunate haste with which we are dealing with these Bills I am unable to get the facts from the library. But it is said that this change in the quality arrangement from a wooden barrel to the stainless steel barrel has had a further effect of increasing the rate of excise on beer over and above the actual rate proposed. That may well be true. But it it impossible at the moment to ascertain the facts. I would like to say this: I was involved, at the commencement of the last world war, in a survey of the wooden cask manufacturing industry. I can well remember that very

English craft of cooperage that has now very largely passed away. I imagine now that beer manufacturers have to pay an increased rate of duty they are sad that wooden cooperage has gone and stainless steel has come in its place.

The principal objection that I have to the passing of these Bills at this time is that we have been pushed into examining these matters rather earlier than we thought would be the case. Therefore, one has not had a chance to examine them critically other than to observe that they are part of the total revenue-production scale. The Senate has a very great responsibility to be careful about how it looks at revenue items. These are matters that governments have to judge and take responsibility for. But if the Government itself decides to alter its revenue raising proposals as laid down in the Budget- they were laid down across a very wide spectrum of revenue-raising- it cannot complain in any sense if, on subsequent occasions, the Opposition decides to examine some of these revenue measures in more detail and perhaps with some prospect of consequential amendment. On the question of the quantity scale for barrels, hogsheads and kilderkins, I would like the Minister, in his reply, if he can possibly do so, to tell us what is the percentage change in the quantity arrangement as it affects the duty in the scale of this change of measurement system. He may be able to do that. But I think that over and above that one cannot spend a great deal more time on these measures unless one decides to take the very straight forward and positive attitude of refusing the Government the revenue that is proposed to be raised by these various methods. The Opposition has not decided to do that at this stage. It has decided to take these Bills as part of the revenue raising process and to pass them accordingly, but with the reservation that it may be necessary to examine later revenue raising measures far more critically. On an occasion like this that may arise in the future I will seek to adjourn the debate to allow us adequate time to ascertain and examine the facts.

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