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Tuesday, 30 March 1999
Page: 4659

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY —My question is addressed to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Has the minister seen reports claiming that the government's proposed tax reforms, including significant reductions in diesel fuel excise, will have a negative impact on the environment? What is the government's response to these claims?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for her question. I note at the outset that she, of course, comes from the beef state. Queensland is the home of the major part of the beef exporting industry of this country. No sector in any part of the country benefits more from our tax reform proposals than the far-flung beef industry in Queensland. So the member has a real interest, particularly when we are faced with some pretty spurious and second-rate contributions to the debate about our reform proposals. The fact is that the government's response to the claims that the member refers to is to point out that they are driven by ill-advised politics; not by any commitment to sound policy. It is plain that the ALP and the Democrats—with the assistance of the Greens—clearly want to maintain Labor's taxation regime for transport fuel in this country. Labor's transport fuel taxation regime was amongst the highest in the world and the highest in the world when it comes to comparable countries such as Canada and America—agriculturally-oriented, exporting nations with vast differences. It all proves that, in the end, for all of their new-found rhetoric about their new-found concern for rural and regional Australia, they do not give a fig about it. They want to deny rural Australia $3,500 million worth of benefits through taxation reform, particularly in the area of fuel. The fact of the matter is that the whole community will clearly benefit from lower transport costs. The cost of goods will be reduced. There will be a boosting of the efficiency and the competitiveness of our exports—so it goes on.

Let us come to some specific claims. There are some specific claims by the Australia Institute in the report that these tax reforms will lead to increased deaths from pollution and crashes. This is based on a very simplistic assumption that cheaper fuel will mean more trucks driving further. The claims fail to recognise the enormous advances in vehicle technology and in engine design in both cars and trucks. It denies completely the reality that from 1997—

Ms Macklin interjecting

Mr ANDERSON —The more they dislike the answers, the more the truth is exposed, the more we hear some background static from the other side. And the more we ought to ignore it, because it reflects the fact that we are onto reality. Statistics do not lie. From 1987 to 1997 the number of road deaths involving heavy trucks in Australia dropped by 44 per cent from 243 to 169. While you had more trucks on the road covering greater distances, hauling more freight and reflecting more economic activity—road deaths came down. The claims also fail to recognise the success that road safety campaigns are having. They fail to recognise that tighter emission controls being put in place by the government will bring down total emissions. In fact, particulate emissions for heavy vehicles and trucks will come down by around 70 per cent.

Some further interesting observations have been made today by the National Farmers Federation. They point out that reality disproves the committee's conclusions. They point out—

Mr Beazley interjecting

Mr ANDERSON —Oh yes, we want to shoot the messengers! How about you shoot some of your own messengers when they deliver messages that you do not like—like Mr Hogg, perhaps? They do not like being exposed for wanting to deny rural and regional Australia some very major benefits. The NFF has pointed out that, in fact, you have seen a substantial reduction in fuel costs in this country, because of reducing crude prices in recent years. What has happened to fuel usage? It has actually come down. And the committee has failed, they say, to take into account that, as you get a reduction in sales tax under the tax reform policy, you will actually see an upgrading of a vehicle fleet and a reduction in its age. More efficient trucks will mean very real environmental outcomes. So, in a whole range of ways, the views being put to us out of that Senate committee by the majority ought to be, I think, taken with more than a grain of salt.

Mr McMullan —I ask the minister to table the document from which he was quoting.

Mr SPEAKER —Was the minister reading from a document?

Mr ANDERSON —Mr Speaker, I am more than happy to table the NFF's press report.