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Tuesday, 1 February 1994
Page: 21


Mr TRUSS (3.32 p.m.) —What a lamentable response we have just heard from the Assistant Treasurer (Mr Gear). He made irrelevant comments about matters that have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject. The evidence of the irrelevance of his response is clearly demonstrated by the total absence of any occupants on the front bench and the deserted back bench seats. The reason why the back bench seats are deserted is that they are answering angry phone calls from constituents who had to pay higher fuel prices this morning. There are angry calls from poor pensioners and from the poor people in the community who are particularly affected—the so-called true believers of Labor once again let down by the biggest taxing government in our national history.

  The Assistant Treasurer expects us to be comforted by the fact that the all ordinaries index is up this morning. The poor pensioner with the 20-year-old car could not care less about the all ordinaries index, neither could the farmer facing a negative income for the third successive year. Yet these are people who are going to meet the full impact of this higher price of fuel. Let us not forget the really poor people, those earning less than $5,400 a year and paying no tax. They will get none of this $2.88 compensation that is due to come in on 1 July—in six months time. After all the tax increases are made, a concession comes for some people but the poorest in our community miss out altogether.

  Fuel tax has to be one of the most iniquitous taxes ever devised by government. It is a tax on distance; it is a penalty on those who live and do business outside of the capital cities; it is a tax on productive industry; it is a levy on exports; and it is a tax on decentralisation. If ever there is a country that ought not to tax distance, it is a vast land like Australia where it is necessary to travel thousands of miles to bring our nation's produce to the ports, where we export much of what we produce and where we allegedly give lip-service year in, year out to decentralisation, balanced development and the like. We say these sorts of things.

  The government appoints a task force to look at regional development. What is it doing while the task force is out touring the countryside with the failed ex-member for Hinkler as its secretary? What is it doing while the task force is allegedly listening to the concerns of those in the bush? It is imposing new, harsh fuel taxes, further taxes on distance.

  The government will impose a special new levy on all those who take its advice to go west, to do something about turning our vast spaces into places of productivity. The fuel tax adds massively to the cost of living and doing business outside capital cities. Every one cent a litre increase in the price of fuel adds $26.8 million to farm costs. For the benefit of the new Minister for Resources (Mr Beddall), who represents the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins) in this chamber, that is after taking into account the fuel rebate scheme.

  As a result of the one cent a litre rise in the price of fuel there will be an impost of $26.8 million on the farm sector—well over half of the fuel used by farmers is not subject to the rebate scheme—$6.9 million on the mining industry, $9 million on the forest industry and $23.3 million on the food processing industry. As a result of the increases in the last federal budget, $330 million will be added in one year to the costs of those industries alone. Is this the way the government, which is allegedly interested in encouraging industry and the productive sector, should react—with increased costs?


Mr Lloyd —Of course not; they are not genuine.


Mr TRUSS —The government is not genuine about doing anything to encourage the productive sector. The fuel excise is a tax on the poor. The last census revealed that the 20 poorest federal electorates in Australia are in rural and provincial areas; the 20 richest are all in capital cities. People in country areas have to travel further and will have to pay more fuel tax. The poorest will be the most affected by this shameful increase in taxes.

  The country family, which must travel to the supermarket, will pay a penalty fuel tax; the city family can go to the supermarket to do its shopping on subsidised public transport. On visits to the doctor, the country family will pay a penalty tax on its fuel; the city family can enjoy subsidised public transport. Parents of country children have to pay an increased penalty tax when their children go to school; city children enjoy free school buses.

  The cost of living in country areas will be significantly affected by the taxes imposed today. The price on every item, on every shelf, in every store will rise as a direct result of the impositions of this government. There will be no compensation to many people for the increased taxes that have come into effect today.

  This government has used every fuel pump as a branch of the tax office. It is reaping $8.4 billion a year through fuel excise. By next year there will have been a 10-fold increase in fuel excise revenue in the life of the Labor government. What an appalling indictment on its taxing policies!

  Not just fuel excise adds to the tax cost of petrol—fuel excise alone is around half the cost—there are also state franchise taxes. Petrol companies, fuel distributors and service stations all pay income tax, sales tax, the training levy, payroll taxes and all the other taxes that are imposed on businesses. They even pay tax on the fuel they use in their own businesses. So there are taxes on taxes. Today we also have the regular six-monthly increase in fuel excise brought about by CPI adjustments. Labor taxes inflation with its fuel pricing as well—tax upon tax upon tax upon tax.

  We are led to believe by the government that the new tax introduced today on leaded fuel has something to do with promoting environmental awareness. The new super tax on leaded petrol is supposed to encourage conversion to unleaded fuel. But the Australian Institute of Petroleum has reported that sales of leaded petrol are already falling by 5.7 million litres per month while unleaded sales have increased by more than that amount. So the conversion is occurring naturally, without the need for a tax penalty.

   The government said that it wants the lead in air figure reduced below 1.5 micrograms per cubic metre—the National Health and Medical Research Council's level of concern. Even in Sydney, which is supposed to be the main trouble spot, the level of concern has not been exceeded since 1988 and the Environment Protection Authority now reports the lowest airborne lead levels on record. The seasonally adjusted average across all testing sites in Brisbane has not exceeded 0.5 micrograms per cubic metre—a third of the level of concern—since 1988. The Queensland department of the environment said in its 1991-92 annual report:

. . . lead levels continued to decline to such an extent that lead levels in Brisbane are never expected to exceed national health standards.

So the clear facts are that there is no need to impose special taxes with regard to the levels of lead in petrol. This is nothing more than a naked tax increase. Bear in mind that country people will pay the most of this leaded tax penalty. There are no environmental concerns in Birdsville about leaded fuel; nor are there in any of the provincial cities. But people living in those areas are required to pay this penalty to try to provide some kind of environmental benefit in Sydney and Melbourne—illusionary benefits, of course.

  The honourable member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown), the ex-Minister for Land Transport, knew the facts. In a press statement dated 30 December 1992 he said that any proposals to introduce a tax on leaded fuel would be a move that `would deprive many ordinary citizens of their independent mobility' and would particularly `disadvantage many low income families'. They were not my words, but the words of the former Minister for Land Transport. He made those comments only days before the last federal election when the government, including the Prime Minister (Mr Keating), made a commitment not to implement any penalties on leaded fuel. After the election result, things were totally different. (Time expired)