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Tuesday, 25 March 1997
Page: 2966

Mr LATHAM(9.36 p.m.) —The Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet) to the Prime Minister (Mr Miles) has raised a few points that deserve a response. What he is doing when he criticises the opposition is also criticising the MTAA, the Service Station Association and APADA. He is criticising the aspirations and suggested reforms of close to 9,000 small businesses around Australia. Yet here was the Prime Minister (Mr Howard), just a few days ago, saying that this was a government that listens and acts on the advice of small business.

Small business in the service station sector and distributor sector of this industry supports the Labor Party reforms. As for his claim that part IIIA is only devised to deal with natural monopolies, he obviously has not read the ACCC material on this. The ACCC produced a discussion paper. If you read these things as thoroughly as I do, you will notice that there is a very significant note in that discussion paper which said that part III access can apply to natural monopolies but also to natural oligopolies.

That is what the petrol industry is—a natural oligopoly where obviously there is an economy of scale such that it is not economic for a vast number of participants to construct petrol terminals in every part of Australia. It has natural oligopoly features. The ACCC, in their published guidelines and in their evidence to a parliamentary committee chaired by the member for Wannon (Mr Hawker), have said that it is totally proper to consider downstream access for natural oligopolies. So the parliamentary secretary and his advisers need to catch up with the latest ACCC advice, as I have done.

In terms of the debate about whether it is a service or a good, it is up to the parliament. This is an amendment to a statute of the parliament, and the parliament can determine whether or not the semantic arguments about services and goods hold weight at law. What this parliament would be saying is: whether you declare petrol terminals and their products as services or goods, there will be downstream access to them. That is the right of the parliament.

We are not here to have the country run by a dictionary. We are not here to have the country run by some bureaucrats looking up the finer points of the meaning of `service' and the meaning of `economic goods'. We are here to have it run by the parliament that wants to do good things in the public interest. The good thing in the public interest is to say that whether petrol terminals are a good or a service, they are essential facilities for downstream access purposes. That is what my amendments would achieve.

As for the question about retailers not being able to access the wholesale petrol because they do not own it, what is the whole point of downstream access? Of course downstream accessors do not own the upstream wholesale product. They purchase the upstream wholesale product because there is excess capacity upstream. If there is a dispute about the pricing of the purchase, it goes on to the ACCC for arbitration. This is exactly the same principle that the parliament has legislated for electricity and gas, but somehow the government has a phobia about doing it for the private sector petrol industry. On each of these things the parliamentary secretary has been shot down.

In terms of what the Labor Party has been doing about it, goodness gracious me, who do you think carried the weight of the Hilmer reforms that got part IIIA written into the Trade Practices Act? It was the Australian Labor Party. So there we were getting the access regime into the act just 18 months ago and commissioning a report from the ACCC. If we had been in government we would have acted on the ACCC report by saying it was faulty, it missed the main game, it missed the boat when it came to sensible petrol reforms and the only thing to do is use the original act to put petrol on the downstream access regime. Again the parliamentary secretary is completely shot down in flames.

On each of the matters that he has raised before the parliament, he is clearly inadequate. He cannot explain why the government one day says that it listens to small business and the next day says, `We are going to ignore the interests of 3,000 service station small businesses which are likely to go broke.' While the parliamentary secretary sits on his hands and while the Prime Minister fiddles from Kirribilli House on Sydney Harbour, these businesses go broke systematically. That will be marked down as the great black spot on the record of the Howard government. The irony of it is that the bowser boy Johnny Howard, who grew up in a small business service station family, sent them all broke.

Mr Miles —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I ask that the Prime Minister be referred to in the proper manner.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mossfield) —I think the practice here is that you refer to members of this House by their correct titles. I ask the member for Werriwa to do that.

   Question put:

   That the amendments (Mr Latham's ) be agreed to.