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Tuesday, 29 June 1999
Page: 7685

Mr O'CONNOR —My question is to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Minister, will you confirm that a business in Ballarat operating a 10-tonne truck will get a diesel fuel grant for all of the 99 kilometre trip to Melbourne but a business in Geelong operating a similar truck will not get a grant for any of the 73 kilometre trip to Melbourne? Won't the business in Ballarat be free of compliance problems, as it can claim a grant for all journeys that the trucks make, whereas the business in Geelong has the compliance nightmare of claiming grants only for journeys into non-metropolitan areas? Minister, won't this inequity discourage any business operating mid-range diesel trucks from locating in Geelong or in other areas like Penrith and Ipswich?

Mr Lloyd interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Robertson is warned.

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —Let me begin to respond to that question by just saying three things that we know very clearly about the ALP's policy in this regard.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER —I understand the Leader of the Opposition is raising a point of order on relevance.

Mr Beazley —Absolutely.

Mr SPEAKER —And I will rule accordingly.

Mr Tuckey —Mr Speaker, on that point of order—

Opposition members —Oh!

Mr SPEAKER —When the House comes to order, I will recognise the Minister for Forestry and Conservation who has, obvious ly, exactly the same rights as anyone else in this House to raise a point of order.

Mr Tuckey —On the point of order, I draw your attention to the precedent of the ruling of Speaker Snedden on a debate of this nature—

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Chifley will resume his seat while the Minister for Forestry and Conservation is heard.

Mr Tuckey —when he pointed out that it was relevant for a minister of the government to compare the policies of the government with the policies of the opposition.

Mr Price —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Leader of the Opposition rose to make a point of order and you interrupted him on the basis that you were prepared to rule—that is perfectly within the standing orders, but you then accepted another point of order before your ruling. If you are going to interrupt a member in making a point of order on the basis that you are going to give a ruling, then you should give the ruling.

Mr Neville —Mr Speaker, the original point of order—

Mr SPEAKER —Does the member for Hinkler wish to speak to the point of order?

Mr Neville —Yes, to the original point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it reasonable to ask you to rule on relevance before the minister's three points were even discussed?

Mr SPEAKER —I think it may be reasonable for the chair to reflect on what are largely hypothetical issues. The Minister for Transport and Regional Services had indicated in his opening remarks that he was about to reflect on opposition alternatives to which, understandably, the Leader of the Opposition took a point of order on relevance, about which I agreed I was to rule. Other points of order were then brought to my attention. In the case of the Minister for Forestry and Conservation, it was clear he wished to elaborate on what had been a precedent established by a former Speaker, so I allowed him to do so. There is absolutely nothing inconsistent in the way in which I have treated any member of this House, nor will there ever be so long as I have any say in the matter.

I will now rule on the Leader of the Opposition's point of order. The Minister for Transport and Regional Services is of course entitled to commence his answer in any way he wishes, but he is obliged to be relevant to the question. I now call him and ask him to be relevant to the question.

Mr ANDERSON —Let me then put it to the House in these terms. I wish to make three points regarding how our policy proposals vary from theirs. The first is that we propose a billion dollar slashing of Australia's transport costs, including hundreds of millions of dollars reduction in fuel excise. They propose not to allow the Australian economy to benefit from any of these measures. The second—

Mr Beazley —I take a point of order on relevance, Mr Speaker. Because it was raised by the minister for forests, I would just like to make the point that, generally speaking, when Speakers in the past have allowed a compare and contrast answer, it has been on a specific question that invites it. We have heard many questions indeed, generally from the government—about three or four of them in the course of this afternoon—that effectively invite a compare and contrast. There was no invitation to a compare and contrast in this. It was a very specific set of propositions relating directly to legislation for which the minister has responsibility. He has had problems answering the first two questions which were similar, but it is in continuation—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition knows that he cannot enter into argument. The Minister for Transport and Regional Services will respond to the question and the chair is listening to ensure that he is relevant. That does not mean that he is not able to refer to diesel fuel excise rebates or whatever he wishes to in general terms, but he must be relevant to the question.

Mr ANDERSON —The second point I wish to raise is that we support tax reform and they do not. The relevance of this to this debate is that in 1993, because they would not support tax reform, they had to increase wholesale sales tax and fuel excise. Their record is one of increasing fuel excise.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition's exasperation is somewhat unfounded. He was unaware that the member for Corio was in fact seeking the call, but I recognise the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I will bet it was on the same point of order as mine. There is a very specific set of questions here about the ridiculous nature of this measure and we are entitled to an answer on it.

Mr SPEAKER —I will invite the minister to come back to the question and the Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat.

Mr ANDERSON —The third point is that there is absolutely nothing unusual—in fact, it is normal practice for a government to set out clearly in an act its intentions, when it comes to the administration—

Mr Beazley —He does not know the answer.

Mr ANDERSON —You say I do not know the answer. It is quite apparent that it is normal practice for you to work through the compliance and administrative arrangements subsequently. We have been quite open about that.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr ANDERSON —No. You want to remain irrelevant to the whole process. That is fine; but it ought to be remembered very clearly—and this is part of the third point—that the fact is that there are 110,000 primary producers in Australia at the moment and every time they make a diesel fuel claim, they have to distinguish between on-road and—

Mr O'Connor —Mr Speaker, I have been very patient listening to the honourable member; my point of order is on relevance. I asked the minister specifically a question relating to businesses operating in Ballarat and Geelong and the question of diesel fuel grants relating to those businesses. I also asked him about the compliance nightmare that Geelong businesses would face as a result of his policy. Could you ask him to come to the point of that question?

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Corio will resume his seat. The chair has exercised a great deal of tolerance on this whole ques tion. By any measure, the member for Corio's point of order does not stand up. The chair has some experience with the whole question of primary production. It is not my job to enter into the debate in any way at all, but I am aware that it is reasonable to talk about compliance difficulties in the context of primary production and other diesel users. In that sense, I rule the minister's answer entirely relevant.

Mr ANDERSON —I can conclude by simply stating that the reality is that these arrangements already exist.

Mr Melham —Let the Speaker answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Banks!

Mr ANDERSON —I have been absolutely open and frank with the House. Our intention is to deliver huge savings in the cost of transport. Let no-one miss the essential point in all of this, which is that the Labor Party is opposed to the cutting of transport costs. That is the bottom line. That is all there is to be said to those people who are looking for cheaper fuel in Australia.