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Thursday, 18 February 1999
Page: 3259

Mr BILLSON (11:30 AM) —Mr Deputy Speaker, are you unhappy with my tie? I will pass on your thoughts to my wife. Quite frankly, she is a Greek goddess, and I am not brave enough not to wear it, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I compliment the previous speaker on her contribution. I also compliment the last speaker on the previous bill, the honourable member for Mitchell; we will all practise fruit fly trap for the rest of the day.

I am pleased to be able to talk in support of the Motor Vehicle Standards Amendment Bill 1998 . It brings together two areas of government policy that very much interest me. One is improving the performance of government, which this bill seeks to do by tidying up some of the administrative arrangements that support the implementation of these types of measures and by enabling the delegates of the minister to act on his behalf.

The second area that interests me is its contribution to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions effort. I will start with the latter point because I think it is worth reflecting on the importance of this measure in the context of the Prime Minister's 20 November 1997 statement on greenhouse issues, Safeguarding the future: Australia's response to climate change. The issues that were outlined in that statement by the Prime Minister were very comprehensive and were designed to deliver on Australia's commitments that have been entered into through the Kyoto process. Naturally, they are not binding at this stage because many of the member states have not gone through the formal ratification process, but it is a guide to the responsible approach the government will take into the future and in meeting our commitments in the future accounting periods under the Kyoto protocol.

What I like about this particular measure is that it is something we can all get behind. The member for Dickson spoke about individuals wanting to do something in this area and I concur with those remarks. We have seen in areas like recycling and in other conservation and environment related areas of concern that the ordinary citizen wants to do their bit. They want to be able to make a small contribution towards a national or international effort to address some of these environmental concerns. With recycling, we have probably been killed with people's enthusiasm to get involved, as the downstream processing of some of the products that are available for recycling has not quite kept pace with the supplies of recyclable products that Australian consumers are putting back into the waste management system. In this example, though, it is a chance for individual consumers to make some choices about their behaviour and how it will impact on emissions from Australia. This measure tools up consumers with information that will enable them to make some choices about which vehicles to buy into the future under a reliable set of reporting arrangements embraced as a standard.

The bill expands the range of standards that can be implemented under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act to include energy conservation and fuel efficiency. That is particularly significant in light of the contribution that emissions from motor vehicles, or, more generally, the transport sector, make towards the total greenhouse gas emissions in Australia.

There are a number of very in-depth and well-considered reports around. One of them I have here with me, which is the Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics working paper No. 37, which talks about tradable permits in transport. While we are not here to talk about tradable permits, the document canvasses issues about the transport sector and how it will play its role in the reduction of the emissions from the broader Australian economy. It points to some options that, frankly, are flagged as not being terribly manageable or not being sound and efficient administratively in terms of what the transport sector can do to reduce our emissions.

What is attractive about this proposal before us today is that it fits very neatly with and responds quite directly to some of the concerns that have been raised in this paper. I have talked about tradable permits on other occasions and I will not go into that today. But if you reduce that sort of thinking down to individual motorists, it becomes a bureaucratic and administrative nightmare. It is difficult to imagine how, at an individual level, a tradable permits system would bring about changes in people's behaviour, because many of the decisions that are made about people's behaviour in terms of their motoring habits and the vehicles they buy would be removed in some way from the particular permits that would operate at an individual level if a full tradable system were implemented.

That has been recognised by the government in that there are other more direct policy measures required to make sure that all sectors of the economy are doing their share towards reducing the growth in our emissions of greenhouse gases. This particular measure is one of those. I like it because it is, I think, something we in this place can agree on—and that is nice—but it is also something that those outside this place can agree on.

I know the motor industry itself is taking its responsibilities very seriously. I would like to put on the record my respect and support for the work that people like Mr Russell Scoular, a friend of mine who works at Ford who is heavily involved in this area, and others involved in the motor vehicle industry are doing to make sure that the difficult problems around other measures, as outlined in the Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics working paper No. 37, are not an impediment to the motor industry doing something at all.

This particular bill will see a standard introduced where consumers will have reliable and consistently compiled fuel consumption information at their fingertips. It actually goes further than some of the similar measures which are around overseas. The explanatory memorandum points to the United States, Japan and, I think, some European countries that have taken steps in this direction. In the US, the mandatory measures tend to relate to a consumption rate across the whole suite of vehicles a manufacturer is putting into the marketplace. While they do support that with individual fuel consumption information, as the member for Dickson pointed out, and are quite adamant in having that information communicated to consumers, the mandatory obligations relate to a whole suite of vehicles.

We have gone a bit further here. We are talking about mandatory obligations on fuel consumption reporting at an individual vehicle level. Just to illustrate what that means: if I was in the market for a small car and, being a bit of a Holden man, was attracted to some of the Barina product line or to some of the Astra product line but knew there were some much larger engine capacity, higher fuel consumption vehicles in the top end of the Holden range, I might not get the information I wanted about the particular vehicle I was interested in if we applied parts of some of this whole-of-fleet mandatory regime.

Under this proposal, though, I will get that information about the particular vehicle I am interested in purchasing and I can compare that with other vehicles on the shop floor. It tools up consumers with information to do something themselves at an individual level, and that is what is really first class about this proposal.

We are still faced with other issues in the motor vehicle industry that need to be addressed in the context of our greenhouse gas responsibilities. There are some questions concerning the age of Australia's vehicle fleet, and I have talked previously about that subject under a private member's motion dealing specifically with it. But just to recap on some of those themes, the age of the Australian vehicle fleet causes some inherent problems, not only because many drivers use vehicles that do not have the latest technology, safety measures and fuel efficiency devices that are available but also because they run on unleaded fuel. Unleaded fuel itself has other problems outside greenhouse gas emissions—obviously lead emission being the key one—and at this stage we are still moving towards the date in 2010 when we will look to have leaded fuel taken off the market.

There is an argument that we might look at bringing that date forward, but we have got to be mindful of the age of the vehicle fleet and what such a measure would do. I think that, with some of the petrol companies already producing half-lead fuels and derivative fuels that can run in leaded engines, we do have some encouragement to look at bringing that date forward. But we need to bear in the back of our minds that more than 30 per cent of all the fuel sold today is leaded fuel.

We have also before us some work to do at a broader level about our emissions trading responsibilities under our greenhouse gas commitments. What I like about this vehicle standards amendment is that cars being imported into this country, as I understand it, will have to meet the same requirements as domestically produced cars in terms of their vehicle fuel consumption performance.

It raises other questions about how, in this greenhouse gas emitting world and under some of the framework set up with the Kyoto protocol, we are going to harmonise the behaviour of countries that are in the loop and have made commitments to reducing their emissions and those countries that are outside the loop and under the banner of being a developing country. At least here, if we have motor vehicles that are manufactured in those developing countries where, at the point of manufacture, emissions are not being fully taken into account, under Kyoto, the product of that effort, when it comes into a more developed market such as ours, needs to apprise itself of those global responsibilities.

It also leaves some broader questions about trade. Here we are recognising that products offshore that have an impact on greenhouse emissions need to come within a more responsible emissions net. At the same time there are other manufactured products, coming out of developing countries in particular—where emissions are not a high priority—competing with goods manufactured domestically where we have to keep an eye on the emissions produced. There seems to be a tad of inconsistency there. I have talked previously about whether we might need to look at climate control compliance measures on imported goods coming out of undeveloped countries into our mature market so that our domestic manufacturers are at least competing on a level footing. That is about fairer trade and fairer competition, and that is a subject I would very much like to talk more about at another time.

I might leave my contribution at that today. I am grateful that the deputy speaker has changed: he might find my tie more acceptable than did the previous incumbent of the chair. I commend the bill to the House and think it is a small but important step towards a sensible way for our nation to address its greenhouse gas emission responsibilities. That is important; it is important for my little son, Alexander, because he will be here dealing with the world as it is long after I have gone somewhere else and do not need to worry about the ties I am wearing.